Review: Miss Sloane

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DIR: John Madden • WRI: Jonathan Perera • PRO: Ben Browning, Kris Thykier, Ariel Zeitoun • DOP: Sebastian Blenkov • ED: Alexander Berner • DES: Matthew Davies • MUS: Max Richter • CAST: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Miss Sloane is first and foremost a Jessica Chastain vehicle. Taking on the titular role, she drives the story forward with her powerful delivery and mastery of a sometimes-wayward script. Elizabeth Sloane is an aggressive lobbyist – a job that exists in American politics, whereby ‘causes’ (or, more usually, ‘vested interests’) are argued and pushed to powerful voting Senators in government to ensure that bills live or die on their word. And Miss Sloane is very good at her job. We open, however, with Elizabeth being called before a congressional hearing led by Senator Ronald Sperling (John Lithgow) to assess whether she violated Senate ethics (such as they are!) during her time working for Cole Kravitz & Waterman – a Washington DC lobbyist firm.

The film frames a back-story around these Senate hearings, and we hop in time three months’ previous, where Elizabeth is approached by the gun lobbying platform to take on their newest attempt to block a new bill. The proposed purchasing restrictions – a so-called Heaton-Harris bill – would expand background checks on gun ownership, and the gun lobbying/gun purchasing lobby’s response to this is to specifically target women in their new push for a buying market to show resistance to the bill. So, they feel that Elizabeth’s position as both a cutthroat lobbyist and woman will give her the edge to push through their agenda. Instead, she laughs at the ridiculousness of their proposal, and takes up the offer of a rival firm, Peterson Wyatt – headed by Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong), to lobby against the gun purchasing platform, and argue for the Heaton-Harris bill. Elizabeth takes most of her staff with her when she leaves, with the exception of her put-upon assistant Jane Molloy (Alison Pill), who opts instead to stay with the powerful Cole Kravitz & Waterman firm – thereby pitting herself against her erstwhile mentor and boss.

The film untangles the complicated web of governmental twists and turns a bill takes on its way to being passed – showing the underlying duplicity of Senators as their votes are begged, borrowed and bought from both sides. Each lobbying firm pulls out all of the stops in attempting to undermine the other, and win supporters for their play. However, things quickly become personal, as a hearing is pushed forward by Elizabeth’s ex-firm to investigate possible ethics violations that took place while working with them. Meanwhile, we begin to question how far she is willing to go for her own ends – even though they might eventually justify the means – as things around her begin to unravel, with her personal and professional life showing signs of disintegration, while her every movement is dragged up before a congressional hearing. Taking advantage of personal knowledge of co-workers to ambush them for her own ends; using and abusing those who believe themselves to be her friends; and popping pills to keep her insomnia in check, she buckles under the pressure of maintaining the persona of an untouchable, and unbreakable, woman of power.

Miss Sloane is an exposé of the underbelly of American politics – though, of course, these days that’s less of a hidden world – that manages to be really entertaining and enjoyable, despite the majority of the action taking place in Senate hearings and lobbyist boardrooms. Hinging hugely on Chastain’s magnificently obsessive performance, this could very easily have been a stereotypical machinating hardass, but she gives the character an essential humanism, making us pity Elizabeth while simultaneously questioning her motives. A Capitol Hill ‘whodunnit’, Miss Sloane is very engaging – the back and forth between the characters is fast paced and intelligent (for the most part), and the twists and turns are both satisfying and occasionally gasp-worthy. A political thriller that could have done with a little more editing to trim some of that fat running time (132 minutes!), it’s nonetheless entertaining, and somehow manages to hold attention even in the overwrought third act.

Sarah Griffin

132 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Miss Sloane is released 12th May 2017

Miss Sloane – Official Website

 

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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DIR/WRI: James Gunn • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Henry Braham • ED: Fred Raskin, Craig Wood • DES: Scott Chambliss • MUS: Tyler Bates • CAST: Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel

Judging by the Thor: Ragnarok trailer released last week, the Guardians effect has filtered through the Marvel Comic Universe… lifting other instalments to its self-aware, fast-talking, cool nostalgia, and bringing us comic book adaptations that are fun, colourful, and entertaining as hell.  Pitched somewhere between the great character evolution of Captain America and the deadpan R-rated craziness of Deadpool, the burden was definitely on Guardians Vol. 2 to deliver, and give us a sequel worthy of the hype.

Plot first!  We rejoin the Guardians (Peter Quill/Star-Lord – Chris Pratt; Gamora – Zoe Saldana; Drax – Dave Bautista; Rocket – Bradley Cooper; and Baby Groot – Vin Diesel) a few months on from where we last left them as they work a job for the Sovereign people, led by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), protecting powerful and lucrative batteries on their planet.  A genetically perfect, (and irritatingly sanctimonious), race, they would rather risk the Guardians life than that of their engineered people.

The Guardians each do what they do – while Baby Groot adorably introduces us to Awesome Mix Vol. 2, the all-important soundtrack to our story.  When the irredeemably thieving Rocket angers them, the Sovereign give chase to the Guardians, who now have Gamora’s ex-sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) in tow, as they stumble across a mysterious man, Ego (Kurt Russell), who may hold the key to Quill’s alien parentage.  Travelling to an unknown planet, in the company of Ego and his empath, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), while pursued by both the Sovereign people and Quill’s old crew of Ravagers – led by murderous-father-figure Yondu (Michael Rooker) – the struggling group must face what it really is to be a family in this crazy universe.  Just as the cracks begin to show in their friendships, a deadly new power threatens the entire galaxy… and nobody else has a name that’ll lend itself more perfectly to protecting it!

There are some heartfelt moments in this instalment, especially when harking back to Quill’s mother’s death – already a tough opener from the first movie – and how Quill deals with the possibility of having a father, as well as what that means for who he is as a part-human, part-alien.  Meanwhile, Gamora and Nebula also try to cope with their upbringing by the cruel and sadistic Thanos, while Rocket battles his own demons as a cybernetic creation, and Drax mourns his wife and children.  Aside from all these deep and meaningful emotions, Guardians Vol. 2 continues with the plan set forward in the first – to have fun, be irreverent, thread the fine line between criminality and legality, and dance, dance, dance.

Where it loses points is in marrying the deep plot bits with the entertainment – it mostly works, but it hits the brakes a little on the forward momentum, while the final battle loses itself in too much CGI splurging.  However, the main setups are great fun, and the back and forth between the cast still has humour and proper zing, which makes it a joy to watch overall.  The new characters bring conflict, opportunities for laughter and some necessary distractions, and the old characters evolve and deepen into their roles

Not quite reaching the all-out perfection of the original, Guardians Vol. 2 is still a brilliantly cool addition to the MCU, soundtracked at every beat with nostalgic hooky lines and riffs, and mostly delivering on the promise of the first.  Since James Gunn has signed on for Vol. 3, keeping hold of the reigns where Joss Whedon let the studio take too much control, we look set for more fun times with these hilarious friends/family/misfits… and they’ll never break the chain (awesome mix reference!).

Sarah Griffin

135 minutes
12A (See IFCO  for details)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is released 28th April 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2  – Official Website

 

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Review: Hacksaw Ridge

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DIR: Mel Gibson • WRI: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight • PRO: Terry Benedict, Paul Currie, Bruce Davey, William D. Johnson, Bill Mechanic, David Permut • DOP: Simon Duggan • ED: John Gilbert • DES: Barry Robison • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey 

Based on the true story of the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honour, Hacksaw Ridge tells the tale of Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a young man whose religious beliefs preclude him from carrying or using a weapon.  The story starts with Desmond as a young child, watched over by his father Tom (Hugo Weaving) – who drinks heavily and suffers terribly from his time in the First World War – and long-suffering religious mother, Bertha (Rachel Griffiths).  One pivotal day while play-fighting with his brother, things take a turn for the worse and he almost kills him with a brick.  The incident has a lasting effect on Desmond, who becomes a pacifist and devout Seventh-day Adventist, following in the footsteps of his mother.  Later in life he meets beautiful nurse Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), falling in love just before enlisting in the army as a pacifist combat medic.  His religious beliefs come under immediate fire from the establishment, including by Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Glover (Sam Worthington), and his fellow soldiers – who struggle to understand the apparent stupidity of someone who would walk onto a battlefield unarmed.  After lengthy legal issues, he is assigned to the 77th Infantry Division and shipped off to Okinawa, where he and his compatriots are sent to overtake the notorious Hacksaw Ridge.  Proving his worth beyond anyone’s expectations, Doss proceeds to show his bravery as he willingly enters the inferno time and again, without a weapon to defend himself.

 

Directed by Mel Gibson, who was approached in the early 2000’s to helm the film but resisted for almost a decade, Hacksaw Ridge would seem to fit perfectly into the director’s penchant for blending violence and religion in a palatable manner.  Paying respect to a real-life person, as well as wallowing in the usual heavily-patriotic wartime portrayals of soldiers, can sometimes leave a real-life biopic to come across as pandering and lacking in real insight.  However, Hacksaw Ridge manages to rise above the rest in this – with a pleasantly gawky and likeable Garfield holding the reins on giving a gangly cornstalk from Lynchburg, Virginia the humanity and relatability necessary for such an unbelievable character.  The fascinating thing, of course, is that the most unbelievable stories are quite often the true ones – as is the case with Desmond Doss.  His fellow soldiers offer a veritable who’s-who of stereotypical 1940s Americana – with nicknames like Tex and Hollywood – but the jingoism is quickly replaced by blood, guts and reality as these boys rush headlong into war in scenes of startling veracity and brutality.  Gibson’s battlefields are epic, as always, and these scenes – though a long time coming in the film – hammer home the bravery of this real life participant in a vicious war.  Biopics can suffer from too much reverence, and Doss is certainly portrayed minus any blemishes or warts – but somehow, with the underlying truth of his bravery to sustain it, the representation doesn’t come across as sickly or painfully naff.

 

While the film suffers from some heavy-handed 1940s stereotypes, cheesy setups, and an overuse of slow-mo, the immersive and visceral battle scenes more than make up for any early descents into mawkishness.  The truth is stranger than fiction, as Doss’s wartime heroics really have to be seen to be believed, and the story carries itself forward in fascinating style – holding the attention until the last.  Flawed, but entertaining, Hacksaw Ridge celebrates a pacifist in a time when killing was currency, and is a welcome reminder of the brutality of the battlefield in our own modern times, when war is fought at the push of a button.

Sarah Griffin

139 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Hacksaw Ridge is released 27th January 2017

Hacksaw Ridge – Official Website

 

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Review: T2: Trainspotting

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DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: John Hodge • PRO: Andrew Macdonald, Danny Boyle, Christian Colson, Bernard Bellew • DOP: Anthony Dod Mantle • ED: Jon Harris • DES: Patrick Rolfe, Mark Tildesley • MUS: Justin Hurwitz • CAST: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle

Twenty years on from the original film, and twenty years on in the lives of the main characters, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to Edinburgh from his life in Amsterdam.  Visiting the city he thought he had left behind when he ran out on his friends (and Begbie, of course!) two decades previously with a bag of cash, he wants to make amends in some way for what those intervening years have done to them all.  Reconnecting with Daniel ‘Spud’ Murphy (Ewen Bremner) also reconnects him with his old companion, heroin – something that hasn’t gone away just because he did.  Slightly more contentious is seeing erstwhile best friend Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson (Jonny Lee Miller), considering all that occurred at their last meeting.  Renton tries to find a way to heal the wounds, and maybe make some money with Sick Boy’s latest scam, involving his girlfriend Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova), while also avoiding the enduring rage of Francis ‘Franco’ Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who has recently escaped from prison and is rampaging through Edinburgh.  Nostalgic for the past, angry at the present, and disillusioned by the future, Renton and his friends must find a way to be alright in 2017…a year they never thought they’d live to, and never prepared to face.

 

Trainspotting was the ultimate ode to the Brit-Pop, Rule Brittania 90s, with an iconic soundtrack and a ‘choose life’ poster that graced the walls of every young adult of the era – my own included.  The thoughts of revisiting these old friends was as terrifying as it was alluring – could they do justice to a formative, seminal film that defined an era?  The answer, thankfully, is a resounding yes!  Ewan McGregor worried that he ‘wasn’t Scottish enough’ to return to the role – which is exactly what Renton seems to feel as he strolls through an unfamiliarly gentrified Edinburgh, past craft beer pubs and urban-picnic cafés, into the forgotten areas that exist in every city – the tower blocks and the closed-down industrial estates, teeming with people like Spud and Sick Boy, who also can’t seem to function in this brave new world.  As with the original, it’s Spud who exemplifies the tragedy of a time that moves by too quickly, and leaves many stranded on platforms unable to find the wherewithal to buy a ticket and board a train to the promised future.  Sick Boy is scamming his way through life, capitalising on those who still yearn to belie their sanitised public images by mixing with the underbelly of the city.  Begbie still stands, as he always did, an ode to toxic masculinity – overflowing with hatred for a world that he can’t navigate by pure violence anymore, and lashing out at everyone who stands in his way.  One thing that still makes sense to him is the betrayal of Renton twenty years ago, and he clings to the rightness of this grudge with the zeal of the wronged.  Against all of this, Renton is still our everyman, standing on the fence with total oblivion on one side, and possible redemption on the other – or perhaps simply showing us the aging face of a man who never thought enough about the future to actually imagine himself in it.

 

The soundtrack stumbles slightly, though it’s impossible to envisage anything being as pitch-perfect as the first, and it’s difficult to imagine what newcomers might feel about this as a standalone film.  I’m not sure that those who come late to the Trainspotting train can get the same from this movie as those of us lucky enough to see it at the right time in the 90s, but these really are minor quibbles for a pretty spot on film. On the Irish end, mention has to be made of the absolutely perfect use of The Rubberbandits’ ‘Dad’s Best Friend’, in a scene that suits the song, the accompanying video, the characters themselves, and the film entirely; their anarchic smarts are exactly what Renton and Sick Boy would be engaging with at this point in their – and our – collective growing-up.

 

Hilarious and devastating, with quick-fire dialogue and black, black humour, T2 gives us just as much honesty as the original did.  Filled with flashbacks, nostalgic mirroring of iconic conversations, an updated ‘choose life’ monologue for the lost generation, and wonderfully funny culture clashes – exemplified by Begbie standing in a nightclub, watching the millennial generation dance ironically to Radio GaGa and Run DMC – this is a sequel utterly deserving of the original.  Which is the absolute highest of praises I can give to this welcome revisit to old friends.

 

Sarah Griffin

117 minutes
18 (See IFCO for details)

T2: Trainspotting is released 27th January 2017

T2: Trainspotting– Official Website

 

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Review: Collateral Beauty

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DIR: David Frankel • WRI: Allan Loeb • PRO: Anthony Bregman, Bard Dorros, Kevin Scott Frakes, Allan Loeb, Michael Sugar • DOP: Maryse Alberti • ED: Andrew Marcus • DES: Beth Mickle • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • CAST: Will Smith, Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet


We open on successful advertising executive Howard Inlet (Will Smith) speaking to an enthralled crowd of workers, including his partners Whit Yardsham (Edward Norton), Simon Scott (Michael Peña) and Claire Wilson (Kate Winslet).  Howard lays out his tenets of advertising – three central themes that all successful campaigns must use to connect with people on a deep and emotional level: Love, Time and Death.  Fast forward two years, and Howard is dealing with the loss of his six-year-old daughter by withdrawing from life and from his firm – leaving his partners, and workers, on the receiving end of possible bankruptcy as he ignores his clients.  Howard writes three angry letters to these tenets he so espoused, which are intercepted by a the matronly Sally Price (Ann Dowd), a PI hired by Whit, who gets away with spying for the simple reason people don’t notice that she’s there.  With the possibility of the firm’s collapse looming, and at the end of their tether, his friends decide to force a way into his veil of grief by hiring actors to each play the role of Love (Keira Knightley), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Death (Helen Mirren), and respond to his deeply personal letters.  They hope to film his reactions, frame him, and have him declared insane, thereby allowing them to take control of – and save – the company.  As their plan unfolds, Howards finds himself discovering a human connection with a grief counsellor suffering her own loss, Madeleine (Naomie Harris), and perhaps a window of light in his dark life.

 

Directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, 2006; Marley & Me, 2008; Hope Springs, 2012), and written by the eclectically random Allan Loeb, with a heavy, heavy hand you can see what the filmmakers are trying to do here – make sense of grief by using proxies (in this case Love, Time and Death) to draw out emotional responses.  However, when you use proxies, you get proxy replies – and nothing in this film feels real or heartfelt.  For starters, the premise that these ‘friends’ are doing this to Howard – declaring him insane rather than working harder to be a friend, and help in some way.  Grief is not something that simply passes, or an inconvenience that needs to be easily ‘gotten over’.  It’s a shocking lack of understanding about true emotion, and means that the film comes across as patronising and unfeeling, when I’m sure quite the opposite was the intention – after all, it really is quite a cast to come together for something that ends up being so melodramatic and false.  Will Smith acts his socks off, as he usually does, in an attempt to give Howard the emotional resonance a character like this deserves.  Each of his friends – Norton, Winslet and Peña – have personal tragedies or struggles that makes their own lives as convoluted and disturbed as Howard’s, and a vastly superior film would have been to watch these sometimes-great, but generally pretty good, actors hash out real emotion onscreen.  Surrogate interferences from Love, Time and Death serve simply as Hollywood-esque responses to actual reality, and distract from the possibility of a real story at the heart of the film’s intentions.

 

Despite game attempts by various cast members, it can’t stand on its own two feet, and crumbles under the weight of a simplistic script that bounces from comedy to melodrama with disarming frequency.  A disappointing movie, overall, that lacks any self-awareness, Collateral Beauty has no real heart in its shallow depths.

Sarah Griffin

96 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Collateral Beauty is released 26th December 2016

Collateral Beauty – Official Website

 

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Starting a Conversation: Twice Shy

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Sarah Griffin examines how Tom Ryan’s feature Twice Shy explores and humanises abortion.

A thoroughly Irish movie, about a thoroughly Irish subject, Twice Shy has – despite not getting general release – been gaining considerable traction.  The second feature from writer/director Tom Ryan, working closely with producer Fionn Greger, it tells the story of Andy (Shane Murray-Corcoran) and Maggie (Iseult Casey), two young people setting out on a relationship, and what happens when the world intervenes.  “The story for Twice Shy came about from my desire to tell a love story”, says Tom. “I also wanted to make something with a bit more complexity than my debut film, Trampoline.  I’m attracted to character dramas, and I thought that a young romance put to the test by an unplanned pregnancy would be an engaging story with a lot of room for character development.”  Abortion is, of course, a pivotal topic right now for women throughout Ireland – as evidenced by the recent turnout for the 5th Annual March for Choice in Dublin, the visibility of t-shirts and jumpers announcing support, and a very real discussion on this central issue beginning to emerge in the media.

 

Twice Shy also does what cinema, with all its arts, does best – humanise what is often thought of in the abstract, and gives us two characters we can get to know intimately as we watch them traverse the obstacles of tough decisions.  Tom Ryan agrees that this is an important point, in terms of what the story brings to the screen, and vice-versa.  “Cinema is an ideal medium to humanise and explore topical issues that may be perceived as controversial.  The characters of Andy and Maggie allowed us to bring balance and context to what is often a polemical debate.  This is an issue that is very rarely approached with such sensitivity in Irish film, so it felt important to the whole cast and crew to tell this story and do it justice.”  There’s no denying that the issue of abortion is still a divisive one, in a country that exports the problem on a daily basis to England and beyond, but it is also an ever-present one.  By opening up this dialogue, films like this give us the opportunity to bring it into our daily conversation, and really get to grips with what can be a taboo subject.  “It also allows us to humanise the issue of abortion and portray it in a sensitive light”, Tom continues.  “Usually in the media, this issue gets brought up in the form of a debate.  One of the goals with Twice Shy was to tell the story of our two lead characters… and through their relationship we could portray the issue of abortion in what is hopefully a relatable and sensitive way.”

 

The lead characters, Maggie and Andy, are from a small town in Tipperary, and move to Dublin to go to college – as so many do.  They forge their relationship in comforting and familiar rural surroundings, and bring it to the city, where the distractions of growing up and growing apart are all entwined in the adult experiences they are seeking.  They are anchored by strong father figures – played, with suitable gravity and magnetism, by Ardal O’Hanlon (Andy’s father) and Pat Shortt (Maggie’s).  Both represent linchpins of our rural culture – family men, who struggle to identify with the younger generation and with their own place in the world, but forge ahead as best they can.  Love, regret and abortion are not the only heavy-hitting issues dealt with in the film, as depression and loneliness are given the space they deserve in this deeply human portrayal of everyday life.  Tom acknowledges the strong role these characters played in centring the film; “Having actors of Ardal O’ Hanlon and Pat Shortt’s talents and stature attached to the film was a massive boost, especially to an independent production like this.  It was really a dream come true for the cast and crew to be working alongside Ardal and Pat.  My producer Fionn and I were very lucky to get them on board at an early stage in the production.”  Both actors seamlessly support the main characters, young lovers on an unknown path, and give the film an emotional depth heightened by the very real, and often quite specifically rural, issues at play.

 

Not to be outshone, Iseult and Shane’s performances and natural chemistry hold the film’s focus determinedly on their relationship, and the complex decisions that very recognisably make up any joining of two personalities.  There is so much to enjoy in this short, but deep, production, yet, as a film that’s gaining plaudits – including a recent Rising Star win for both Tom Ryan and Iseult Casey at Irish Screen America – and portraying such a distinctively Irish world, it has not yet been given a general release.  Twice Shy does not try to give a definitive stance on the abortion debate, choosing instead to simply start a conversation, and encourage viewers to join in.  However, abortion is still a strong story element of a strong love story, and cannot be dismissed.  While it might seem an unusual choice to include such a controversial topic in an everyday relationship, it is a stark reality faced by over ten women a day in this country.  Twice Shy shines a light on a darkened corner of our collective truth, and reminds us that though the reasons for travelling may be as varied as the reasons for falling in and out of love, the journey remains the same.

 

Twice Shy has screened this year at the Galway Film Fleadh and the Indie Cork Festival. 

 

 

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Review: The Magnificent Seven

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DIR: Antoine Fuqua • WRI:Richard Wenk, Nic Pizzolatto • PRO: Roger Birnbaum, Todd Black • DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: John Refoua • MUS: Simon Franglen, James Horner • CAST: Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, Matt Bomer

Remakes, remakes, remakes – as far as the eye can see!  There is nothing new under the sun, and if there was, Hollywood would find a way to make it seem hackneyed and trite.  So let’s get that part out of the way – remakes are awful, they’re lazy, and they serve no purpose other than to squeeze a few more dollars out of nostalgic suckers who want to see their favourite childhood movies with better production on the big screen.  BUT – if you have to remake, reimagine, or revisit an old story… you can do a whole lot worse than a classic Western.  And if you have to do any of the above, replacing Steve McQueen with America’s Sweetheart Chris Pratt can really help ease the pain of repetition…

On to the rest of this ragtag group of misfits and their Western adventure!  If you don’t already know the general story, a small town is beset by hired gunslingers, (updated from banditos for our modern climate), led by violent American magnate Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard).  He has found gold in them there hills, and wants the entire town out of the area so that he can mine, prospect and pan for his money – and he’s not afraid to kill some folks to make his point.  The town suffers many losses, and while out searching for more ammunition to fight back, Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) chances upon a bounty hunter taking care of business.  This particular one, Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), is a dab hand at shooting to kill, but has a soft spot for hopeless cases.  When he discovers a past connection to the very rogue who threatens the town, he can’t help but come to their aid.  But there’s no way he can do it alone.  Assembling a motley crew of gunfighters and down-on-their-luck battlers, he plans to defend the town with – you’ve guessed it – seven men.  First up is the gambler, Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), who joins in order to get back his beloved horse – lost in a bet, naturally – and brings some joviality to the venture.  Next up is war vet Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a sharpshooter from the Civil War who has some secrets of his own.  Goodnight is running with Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a fiercely loyal lethal assassin who can kill anyone, Bourne-style, with any object.  Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is a Mexican outlaw with a hell of a shot and a runaway mouth, and Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio stealing the show!) is a hilarious redneck religious tracker from the mountains.  While making their way back to the town they come across Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), who joins this group of law-avoiding but eventually-honourable men…and so there were seven!  With the first part of the movie thus taken up with establishing – in an entertaining manner – the men themselves, the second half digs into the nitty gritty of why they have come together.  As with the original, they train the town to use firearms to defend themselves, become more caring despite their best efforts, and begin a hopeless battle where they are outmatched, outmanned and outgunned.

The movie is fairly prosaic, and has the usual amount of throwback nostalgia you’d expect from something like this, but the star power is an undeniable draw… and everyone is having serious fun with it.  There is a real devotion to the Western feel – with gunfights to highlight how great battle scenes were before CGI and infra-red/motion-detectors used by gadget-happy fighters who can take four or five bullets before they die.  The purity of the Western gunfight is a thing of beauty – and all it needs is bags of guns, and lots of shooting.

The Magnificent Seven, 2016 version, is never going to be mistaken for a fantastic movie – few remakes ever are.  Coming from Antoine Fuqua, whose best credit is 2001’s Training Day, hopes weren’t necessarily that high – but he has brought the requisite amount of humour, nostalgia and good old-fashioned cowboy-shooting to a genre that never fails to excite.  Westerns aren’t going anywhere, and as much as I am loathe to bolster Hollywood’s nostalgia-happy speeding train, this wasn’t the worst remake I’ve seen.  It’s entertaining, fun, has good actors, great gunfights, and I didn’t feel the long running time.  While missing the gravity of Yul Brynner or Charles Bronson, those involved inhabit the Western world with zeal, and bring a weight of real effort to their roles.  In the end, it’s a pretty authentic reimagining of a classic story, and as remakes go, it’s not half bad.

 

Sarah Griffin

132 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Magnificent Seven is released 23rd September 2016

The Magnificent Seven– Official Website

 

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WFT.I Podcast: Julie Ryan, Producer of ‘The Young Offenders’

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Brought to you by Women in Film and Television Ireland and Film Ireland, this podcast features producer Julie Ryan talking to Sarah Griffin about her career to date and her work on The Young Offenders.

Julie is an international producer having produced the short film Take a Seat (Official selection for the Hollywood Film Festival and Palm Springs International Shortfest), Blood and Water (Best narrative at the Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood & Official selection for the Action on Film International Film Festival at Los Angeles). She has worked on numerous TV shows in Ireland, Canada and the US including Showrunners the Documentary, which debuted No.1 on the iTunes documentary chart in the US.

The Young Offenders is out in cinemas from 16th September and has the widest release of any Irish film so far this year.

 

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Review: Don’t Breathe

Jane Levy stars in Screen Gems' horror-thriller DON'T BREATHE.

DIR: Fede Alvarez • WRI: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues • PRO: Fede Alvarez, Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert • DOP: Pedro Luque • ED: Eric L. Beason, Louise Ford, Gardner Gould • DES: Naaman Marshall • MUS: Roque Baños • CAST: Jane Levy, Stephen Lang, Dylan Minnette

 

Before delving too deeply into this fairly standard, pretty jumpy, generally quite entertaining movie, let’s just get the main criticism out of the way – the premise is absolutely, positively ridiculous.  Even the tagline is slightly embarrassed: ‘This house looked like an easy target.  Until they found what was inside’.  First of all, this house does NOT look like an easy target – even I could tell you that breaking into the heavily fortified home of a blind ex-army vet, who may or may not have some money lying around, sounds like one of the least fun ways to spend an evening.  Especially when this particular house sits in one of the more run-down areas of Detroit surrounded by vacant buildings and derelict wastelands – it’s very address a damning indictment of the occupant’s financial holdings.  However, these three teenagers, who steal from houses on a regular basis and who should know what wealth looks like, decide all the same that it looks like an attractive score.  They quickly discover that – shockingly – things aren’t as they seem, and their get-rich-quick job escalates out of control with alarming intensity.

 

Once you get past the ridiculousness of the premise, Don’t Breathe is actually quite a lot of fun.  There are jumps a-plenty, and the tension builds up at a steady pace before landing the audience with scream-worthy surprises.  The main characters are…well…not great – apart from Jane Levy’s Rocky, reprising her open-eyed terror pastiche from 2013’s Evil Dead remake to great effect.  The Blind Man of the house is played with utter seriousness by Stephen Lang, who somehow equates acting blind with T-Rex-inspired heavy sniffing, milky-eyed stomping and guttural growls.  However, he gives the character just enough menace for his living situation to be almost believable – and for his threat to be worth some of the terror it inspires.

The two fellas who join Rocky, her boyfriend Money (Daniel Zovatto) and friend Alex (Dylan Minnette), are standard teenage compilations with standard teenage personalities.  Money acts exactly like someone called ‘Money’ would act if it was a name drawn from the hat in an improv class – Zovatto is all over the place trying to shoehorn every stereotype the name inspires into his character.  Minnette plays Alex with a quieter intensity and believability, but is nonetheless a one-dimensional angsty teen who really only serves to highlight Levy’s dedication to her character.  Fede Alvarez directs with surprising intent for a movie like this, but it doesn’t quite work, and smacks of an underachieving David Fincher imitation – swooping under beds and through keyholes, with excess tracking shots through long hallways.  While this flashy camerawork mostly amounts to distraction from his one-note directing skills, he at least forces the helm forward at all times – keeping the pace of the story snappy and jumpy, and mercifully short.

There are surprises throughout, which is why I won’t be giving a single plot point away in this review – the whole reason a film like this works is that you jump when you least expect it, and scream before you know what’s happening.  Don’t Breathe delivers bangs and wallops, and while the ridiculous story and generally awful characterisation leaves a bit of a bad taste, overall it’s a pretty fun way to pass an hour and a half.  A break from the stream of home invasion, haunted house or dystopian government ‘thrillers’ recently being churned out, it’s a decent piece of schlock suspense with enough thrills to shake the popcorn out of the box.

 

Sarah Griffin

88 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Don’t Breathe is released 9th September 2016

Don’t Breathe – Official Website

 

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Review: Things to Come / L’avenir

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DIRWRI: Mia Hansen-Løve • PRO: Charles Gillibert •  DOP: Denis Lenoir • ED: Marion Monnier • DES: Anna Falguères • CAST: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka

 

There’s something so beautifully captivating about this window into the world of a middle-aged French woman, embarking on life’s changes even as they are imposed upon her.  The storytelling is subtle, the acting is superb, and the direction has the lightest of touches – meaning that conversation and exposition unfolds naturally and without fanfare.  We are left, then, with a portrait of the life of Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) as her marriage ends, her children leave home and her life changes irrevocably.

What to say about Isabelle Huppert that hasn’t been said, and said again?  In her deservedly decorated career, she has been a consistently outstanding actor who brings realism and brutal honesty to every role she takes on.  Nathalie is no exception – a philosophy teacher who leads the examined life as much as she teaches it, yet beneath her intellectually vigorous nose her husband, Heinz, has been cheating with a younger woman.  Heinz (the wonderfully brusque André Marcon) slowly withdraws from the family home, leaving in incremental stages as they adjust to a marriage that has moved from a meeting of minds to a separation of books.  Nathalie’s free time is often taken up with caring for her mother, Yvette (Edith Scob), a manically eccentric ex-model and actress who clings to her glory years like Norma Desmond – lamenting the world as it loses interest in her.  Nathalie is a respected teacher of philosophy, and has several books published on the subject – including textbooks for schools and fellow educators, though the publishers feel her approach might be too old-fashioned for today’s market.  She has also enjoyed excellent relationships with her pupils, who have appreciated her interactive teaching technique – perhaps in contrast to her husband’s more gruff approach to the education of youth.

One of her past students, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), reappears in her life at a time when she most needs a friend, and becomes a confidante in the changing landscape of her identity.  A contributor to her books on philosophy, Fabien is embracing anarchy, and talks with a slightly-dismissive Nathalie about the ways the world can change – listening to music she once listened to, and arguing old ideas as though they are new.  And so, with both of her children grown and flown, Nathalie must stitch together a new world for herself from the various pieces of wife, daughter, mother and teacher she has accrued.

There are comic moments throughout Things to Come, but this is more an honest tale of real life, told from the inside out.  Nathalie is a very regular person, who reacts logically and breathtakingly normally to life’s hurdles.  It’s a well written piece that still gives the actors licence to meander and flow in a very natural way, making the conversations border on the meaningless while still being heaped with metaphor.  Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Love, winning the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival, her love for the art of thinking and self-exploration shines through this movie.  The daughter of philosophy professors, her films have garnered much praise and plaudits for their honesty and depth of feeling.  Here, she gives us another brushstroke from which we glimpse an entire life – Nathalie is a very real creation, with desires and failings and everything in between.

A genuinely lovely film, with honest storytelling and real profundity, Things to Come is a snapshot of real life, and a worthy vehicle for Huppert’s superb abilities.

Sarah Griffin

101 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Things to Come is released 2nd September 2016

Things to Come – Official Website

 

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Review: Sausage Party

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DIR: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon • WRI: Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg • PRO: Megan Ellison, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Conrad Vernon • ED: Kevin Pavlovic • DES: Kyle McQueen • MUS: Christopher Lennertz, Alan Menken • CAST: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill

 

Sausage Party has been a long time coming – and when early clips dropped last year, it hinted at an irreverent and hilarious parody of Pixar, Disney and the saccharine stories told via animation to our children.  For the most part, it does what it said it would – lampooning silly songs, unlikely friendships and introducing sexually active foodstuffs.  But the trailer was so relentlessly smart, hilarious and wild that no movie could ever live up to that promise…

This is a pet project of Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg – a partnership that has brought us some of the funniest movies of the past decade, most particularly 2013’s This is the End.  Based on a story thought up by Rogan, Goldberg and Jonah Hill in a presumably smoke-filled room, Sausage Party tells the story of savvy supermarket-shelf dweller Frank (Seth Rogan as a talking frankfurter), his lady love Brenda Bunson (Kristen Wiig as the sexy hot-dog bun), and his package-friends Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera – a stumpy malformed frankfurter).  Every morning they sing the song of the supermarket, praising the Gods (ordinary people) for selecting them and taking them to The Great Beyond, where all your dreams come true.  However, when Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) gets picked for rapture, and returned to the shop following buyer’s remorse, he brings with him the horrific tale of what the Gods actually do with foodstuffs in The Great Beyond.

When Frank and Brenda are finally chosen, they’re ecstatic that they can now join together in hot-dog nirvana.  But Honey Mustard’s panicked reaction in the trolley gets in the way, and they find themselves instead on a long journey across the supermarket to find their shelves again.  They’re joined by Teresa del Taco (Salma Hayek as a lesbian taco shell), anxious Jewish carb Sammy Bagel Jr (Ed Norton) and volatile flatbread Kareem Abdul Lavash (David Krumholtz).  Added to this unlikely mix is another victim of Honey Mustard’s panic – Douche (Nick Kroll getting typecast), who’s promise of a satisfying interaction with one particularly ample ‘God’ is cut short in the trolley frenzy.  Douche blames Frank and Brenda for the loss of his true purpose in life, and hunts them through the market’s aisles, destroying everyone in his path.  Seeking the truth of what really happens in The Great Beyond, Frank finds the non-perishable elders of the supermarket – a Native American bottle of liquor called Firewater (Bill Hader) and a box of grits names Mr. Grits (Craig Robinson).  Will they tell him the secrets of what lies outside the doors?  Will Frank find a way to escape his destiny?  Will Brenda finally get to open her bun?  All this and more, in a 90-minute manic escapade of craziness and colour!

It’s a testament to how good these guys’ previous films have been that Sausage Party just doesn’t quite cut the (honey) mustard.  In fact – Seth Rogan, please take consolation from my not thinking this movie was funny enough… it’s because I know you can, and have seen you, do better!  Cursing excessively doesn’t amount to comedy, there has to be underlying dialogue – it’s a fallback option, and smacks of laziness.  There’s some decent commentary on organised religion, as well as the constant sexual innuendo you would expect when hot-dogs want to get with hot-dog buns, and while these raise a few laughs, the underlying intelligence of other comic parodies is missing.

Simply put, in a world where South Park exists, there are no prizes for second best when it comes to animated satire.  With some very funny moments, and a few crazy setups, this is a good film.  It’s just not a great film, and ends up being more of a Sausage Soiree than a Sausage Party.

Sarah Griffin

88 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Sausage Party is released 2nd September 2016

Sausage Party – Official Website

 

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Review: Star Trek Beyond

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DIR: Justin Lin • WRI: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung • PRO: J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Roberto Orci • DOP: Stephen F. Windon • ED: Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto, Steven Sprung • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Thomas E. Sanders • CAST: Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto

Star Trek is practically begging for new movies with each generation, and has enough internal strength as a concept to survive new casts, new stories and new universes.  This instalment, despite some reservations about Into Darkness from the fanbase, is landing onscreen with appropriate excitement.  The alternate timeline has allowed for huge leaps in possible stories – no longer tied, as it would have been, to reflecting the canonical origin stories of Kirk, Spock, et al.  Having dipped into the darkness, quite literally, in the last movie, Beyond is instead returning to the kinetic energy and unabashed glee of the first – a reaction to the strong love/hate split fans had with the second, and a clear message that the filmmakers are listening.

 

We last saw the crew as they set off on a five-year mission into deep space, fulfilling their diplomatic duties for the Federation – to explore strange new worlds, and seek out new life and civilisations.  For the most part, the crew of the Starship Enterprise are doing so.  However, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is finding the vast emptiness of space, and the pleasant work of the Enterprise, has brought on an existential crisis – he wonders who he really is, as the monotony begins to wear on him.  Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) fights a similar internal battle on the death of Ambassador Spock (a touching tribute to Nimoy) – with the Vulcan race almost wiped from the universe he considers what he might mean to his people.  For Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), this means that their relationship has become untenable – not exactly ideal in the close-quarters of space travel.  Karl Urban reprises his character of Doctor ‘Bones’ McCoy, thankfully with a much bigger role than the last film, which barely used him, and joins Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott (Simon Pegg at his least annoying), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho) to fill out the crew of the Enterprise.  Into this slightly discordant group, with their own Captain directionless, a challenge is presented – to enter an uncharted nebula and rescue a downed Federation crew.  When the mission goes spectacularly wrong, the crew are divided on a strange planet and face the eerily familiar wrath of Krall (Idris Elba) – a being who is collecting parts of an ancient bomb with one goal in mind: destroy the Federation.

 

The split in the crew works brilliantly, with the new partnership dynamics adding extra layers to the movie.  Spock and Doc provide the best pairing, and the back-and-forth between sardonic Bones and his Vulcan crewmate humanises Spock beautifully, as well as providing the film’s funniest moments.  Meanwhile Kirk is paired with Chekov – their excellent interplay a sad memoriam to the fact that the brilliant actor, Anton Yelchin, is no longer with us – and Uhuru and Sulu find themselves prisoners together in the enemy enclave.  Scotty escapes alone, and meets the enigmatic Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), another stranded being who has come up against Krall in the past – and might just be their best hope at defeating his madness before he destroys millions of lives.

 

So far, so standard!  Simon Pegg and Doug Jung have taken writing duties, faithfully listening to the fandom when it came to constructing this instalment…and loathe as I am to admit it, pandering has worked in this case.  It had a real echo of Douglas Adams – perhaps thanks to Pegg’s English sci-fi sensibilities – in the overarching story of a sad megalomaniac collecting bits and pieces from all over the galaxy to construct a bomb.  ‘A very, very small bomb’, you could almost hear Hactar mumbling from the dust-cloud…  Pegg can’t resist the Spaced-style banter, but it works pretty well in this context – particularly on the Spock and Doc show – I would watch a whole other movie of those two bouncing off each other.  Fast and the Furious director Justin Lin takes the helm from JJ Abrams – which means less lens flare, for sure, but a massive increase in high-speed space donuts.  Not that I’m complaining, because the pace of this movie meant I didn’t draw breath until the two hours were up – and would have easily watched another hour.

 

Yes it’s formulaic, and follows a standard blue-print of space odysseys both in general and in a way particular to Star Trek – but if there’s anything Trek fans love (and I count myself in that group), it’s a little repetition.  I’d quite happily watch this crew of the Enterprise travel through space for the next ten years, growing into their roles and making them their own.  Star Trek Beyond is a fast-moving sci-fi adventure with the gentle comedy ribbing we’ve come to expect from this new generation…and odd-numbered or not, it’s a really, really fun movie.

Sarah Griffin

122 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Star Trek Beyond is released 22nd July 2016

Star Trek Beyond – Official Website

 

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Review: Ghostbusters

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DIR: Paul Feig • WRI: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig • PRO: Amy Pascal, Ivan Reitman • DOP: Robert D. Yeoman • ED: Melissa Bretherton , Brent White • MUS: Theodore Shapiro • DES: Jefferson Sage • CAST: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon

 

It’s impossible to address Ghostbusters in a vacuum, because ‘the internet’ is determined to make this film some sort of litmus test of feminism/sexism/masculinity/intelligence and whatever else you want to throw in there. I am a woman reviewing the all-female reboot of a deeply beloved all-male classic…so let’s get this out of the way. The only time I’ll give to this whole male/female split is to say that for me, (a woman!) growing up as a massive fan of the originals, it was a genuine joy to watch women on the big screen playing these characters. I now have two sets of abnormal paranormal investigators to love. There have been countless reboots and re-imaginings of things precious to my youth – Spiderman, Superman, Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland, Annie, Star Wars, Footloose, The Karate Kid, Dawn of the Dead, Point Break, Transformers, Poltergeist… it goes on and on. Film execs are dredging the past for faint glimmers of excitement, and trying to repackage it and sell it to a new generation – this is what Hollywood, that churning machine of movies, does. But I’ve never seen unnecessary venom to this degree before a movie was even released – is it really so terrible to have a female cast? So, this is where I’m landing now: watch Ghostbusters and critique genuine movie-related things that you like or dislike; don’t watch it if you are terrified of somehow sullying your precious childhood by 114 minutes of women being funny. Problem solved. And now, to the movie!

The film opens with a slow-building ghostly scare, a la the Library scene of the original, before introducing our new Ghostbusters. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is an uptight academic, trying to deny her past work with ex-collaborator Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) in the widely-derided field of paranormal investigations. This is proving difficult, as Abby is re-selling their earlier book on ghosts and drawing unwanted attention to Erin at her stuffy university. Seeking to shut her up she instead gets caught up with Abby’s new engineer, Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and the three set out to visit a haunted mansion – Erin to finally move on from ghosts, and Abby and Jillian to chase them. The mansion turns out to be very haunted indeed, and the excited women soon find their ghostly proof ridiculed in the science community and their jobs taken away. Meanwhile, creepy evil-doer Rowan (Neil Casey) is setting up ghost-boosters all over the city, amplifying resident spooks and ramping up their full torso free-floating apparition credentials. Just as Erin, Abby and Jillian set up a new business in busting ghosts the city seems to need their expertise more than ever. Hiring nice-but-dim Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth – a very two dimensional addition) as their secretary, and adding tough-as-nails Metro worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) to the crew, the Ghostbusters set out to fight their biggest battle as Rowan’s nefarious plan threatens to destroy the entire city.

This Ghostbusters reflects the original in narrative – we have a similar setup, with the main scientists losing their jobs and focusing on their kooky field just as paranormal activity ramps up all over NYC. There are legitimate complaints that this isn’t a continuation of the original universe, with the characters as protégées or daughters of the first Ghostbusters. Instead of existing in a New York where a giant marshmallow Stay Puft sailor once stomped through Manhattan, these paranormal investigators are instead living in a city that initially ridicules them before realising – in dramatic fashion – that not only are ghosts real, but that only the Ghostbusters can save them.

A lot of the humour depends on your tolerance for Saturday Night Live – the original also had that edge of American-sketch-show to it, and the back-and-forth has high moments of comedy, though more time could have been spent on the Ghostbusters’ building up their business and getting to know each other. It’s also possible to pay too much homage, and sometimes the film does lose its own flavour in an attempt to recapture the original’s very particular brand – especially in regards to jarring cameos from original cast members. But there are great jumpy-moments, and it’s a genuinely funny movie – the chemistry and real-life friendship between the four lead actors is a solid anchor, with Kate McKinnon’s crazy Holtzmann, in particular, stealing the show. They are simply four hilarious comedians, and there are moments of side-splitting comedy for adults as well as kids – they all work so well together that their banter is seamless. Skewing a bit younger, however, this is also less frightening and a bit less involving overall than the original – smacking of being the first of many instalments, rather than a complete movie of its own.

With the vitriolic vortex going on since its announcement in 2014, I wanted so much for this movie to be absolutely brilliant – to silence the ridiculousness of armchair critics, YouTube downvoters and idiotic sexists. And it is a really, really good movie! But there’s just enough wrong with it to give shout-loudest critics vindication – and that’s sufficient for some people to dismiss it out of hand. Here’s my advice: if you loved the original, show it to your kids – laugh and scream with them at the Keymaster, the Gatekeeper, not crossing the streams, and cats and dogs living together (mass hysteria!). But take them to see this reboot too…because it has good scares, it’s a solid addition to a classic concept, and it’s so very, very fun. And I ain’t afraid of no female Ghostbuster.

Sarah Griffin

116 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Ghostbusters is released 15th July 2016

Ghostbusters – Official Website

 

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Review: The Legend of Tarzan

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DIR: David Yates • WRI: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer • PRO: David Barron, Tony Ludwig, Jerry Weintraub • DOP: Henry Braham • ED: Mark Day • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • DES: Stuart Craig • CAST: Margot Robbie, Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson

Following on the heels of the Jungle Book remake and throwing its release-date lot in with Spielberg’s BFG, this revisit to an equally beloved childhood character is in good company when it comes to the more serious end of the family movie genre.  While animated flicks and new creations can rely on slapstick setups, ‘hilarious’ side-kick characters, modern-song medleys and loud, loud, loud colours, movies like these tend to carefully present old favourites in a more subtle package.  The Legend of Tarzan, at its best, does exactly this – presenting a Sunday matinee movie full of good acting, a simple story, and blended CGI…with a calmness that comes with not having your senses assaulted by lurid colour and noise.  Directed by David Yates who gave us the later, more adult, Harry Potter series of movies and who releases Fantastic Beasts later this year, it is a deeply serious attempt to make a modern version of the traditional all-rounder old-school family movie.

 

We begin our story in the late 1800’s with villainous Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) seeking the legendary diamonds of Opar on behalf of King Leopold II of Belgium, to prevent bankruptcy and help fund the takeover of the Congolese people.  Rom is evil as only the always-fantastic Waltz can be evil, never stooping to hyperbole, and played with a constant humanism that keeps his actions firmly in the real world.  Meeting Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) after a massive loss of life to his own men, Rom is spared death and promised the diamonds on condition that he bring the Chief a gift – Tarzan, a man who was raised from a baby by apes in the jungles of the Congo.

 

Meanwhile, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) has been living in rainy England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke – still struggling with the dichotomy of his personalities.  He is convinced by American Civil War survivor George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson, quiet and controlled and NOT playing himself for once!) to take up an offer to visit the Congo, and seek the truth of Belgium’s colonial takeover.  Skarsgård plays the role with subtlety, his fluid body language suggesting an animal nature rather than simply imitating their movements.  He maintains a brooding quietness that reinforces the notion of John/Tarzan being an outsider in both stuffy England and wildest Africa – trying to find somewhere that his mixed identities can fit.  His hulking mass (kudos to Skarsgård!) is evident even in the rigid clothes of Blighty – though, of course, it’s only when he gets to Africa that he truly lets Tarzan breathe, run, jump, bellow his iconic call and sail through the trees with the greatest of ease.  Jane is also anxious to return to Africa – having grown up there herself, before their serendipitous meeting as the only two white people living in the area – and convinces John to bring her along.  Once landed, they have brief moments of respite before Rom’s nefarious plans result in Jane’s kidnapping and the enslavement of their tribal friends.

 

The story, then, is basic Tarzan territory despite not being fully origin – though we do get flashbacks of his childhood – and is really a family adventure story with lessons to be learned; friendship, loyalty, anti-slavery ideals, respect for animals, strength of personal convictions, and a love of nature.  Some fairly glaring colonial undertones, a lack of inventiveness, slightly sluggish pace – these are issues that plague any retelling of a white man returning as saviour to Africa, despite Tarzan’s iconic status in lore.  Press weren’t treated to an IMAX 3D screening – though I can’t imagine it adds anything to what is, essentially, a quietly-paced film – so it’s hard to judge if it might make it more ‘blockbustery’, but as it stands it’s a reasonable addition to the beloved oeuvre.  The movie’s more ponderous attempts to ask postcolonial questions and be more sensitive to the treatment of tribal communities in Africa is a welcome effort to at least tentatively modernise a story that often smacks of cultural appropriation.

 

Nothing ground-breaking to report, but The Legend of Tarzan is a solid ode to a character that continues to draw the imagination of children and filmmakers alike.  Overall a perfectly fine family movie that trundles along at an even pace, and offers an oasis of calm in the barrage of over-hyped kids’ movies making the summer circuit.

Sarah Griffin

109 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Legend of Tarzan is released 8th July 2016

The Legend of Tarzan – Official Website

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Review: The Nice Guys

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DIR: Shane Black • WRI: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi • PRO: Joel Silver • DOP: Philippe Rousselot • ED: Joel Negron • MUS: David Buckley, John Ottman • DES: Richard Bridgland • CAST: Ryan Gosling, Matt Bomer, Russell Crowe

The Nice Guys is a convoluted crime caper set in 1977’s seedy LA underbelly, a dark world nonetheless painted with that colourful Californian palette of soft hues and gentle sunshine.  Opening with a strange and portentous car crash, the film draws the viewer into a web of mystery with strands leading to porn, the motor industry, and even the heights of the Department of Justice.  Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is an alcoholic P.I. looking for murdered porn-star Misty Mountains’ lookalike Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), a young girl who has simultaneously paid Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to keep people like Holland March away from her.  When these two misfits meet each other, in comic and violent fashion, they quickly realise that neither of them know quite who is running things on this job – a discomfiting notion for two men who pride themselves on their instincts.  Holland and Jackson decide to team up as they’re targeted by unnamed attackers, with help from Holland’s wise daughter Holly (fantastic film newcomer Angourie Rice) and a bevy of unsavoury characters.  Nobody is as they seem, and things quickly move from bad to worse as Amelia’s powerful mother Judith, (Kim Basinger), shows them where the trail of death and money is really leading.

Writer/Director Shane Black carved out a one-film niche for himself with his 2005 directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, pairing quick-fire dialogue and comic violence with an interesting buddy-crime story, and he returns to this ethos with gusto after a successful dalliance with comic-book legend Iron Man in 2013.  Improving on the sometimes-anarchic pace of this, The Nice Guys hits the right notes of comedy, intrigue and – very important in Black’s creative world – casting, harking back to the fun-packed buddy-cop feeling of the Lethal Weapon series (written by Black).

Russell Crowe, overweight and slow-moving, nonetheless embodies the menace of an old dog that still has ample bite left in him – his heavy-lidded eyes watching everyone and everything with wry amusement.  Ryan Gosling demonstrates yet again that he is not only a fantastic dramatic actor, but a fine comedic one also – in fact, the majority of the laughs in this movie come from Gosling’s physical humour, as he gamely throws himself from balconies and onto the roof of cars with reckless abandon.

Gosling’s Holland March is a perfectly depressed 1970’s L.A. hangover, who struggles to manage the combined roles of loving father, smart detective and raging alcoholic – all the while coping with a new partner who he regularly lets down.  Crowe’s Jackson picks up the slack, more charmed by Holland’s daughter Holly and her ability to corral her wayward father than he is by Holland’s prowess as a detective.  When psychotic assassin John Boy (Matt Bomer) travels down from New York to clean up after his less-thorough LA counterparts, Holland and Jackson begin to realise that this might not be a simple missing-persons job, and things quickly descend into outright anarchy.

The crime story itself is convoluted, in a sense, but really it’s all secondary to where that story puts its main characters – and the situation setups are so fast-paced and fun that while strands of narrative might fall by the wayside, it’s still a consistently entertaining over-the-top nostalgia-laced trip back to 1970’s craziness.  From massive parties for the porn industry, showcasing LA’s biggest scene as it rose towards its zenith, to palm-treed front yard fist fights, the film never slows its pace as it hurtles recklessly towards an impossible conclusion.

Chances are if you liked Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and similar slacker-neo-noir capers like The Big Lebowski (1998) and 2014’s Inherent Vice, you’ll be happy with The Nice Guys.  Best enjoyed with tongue firmly in cheek.

Sarah Griffin

115 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

The Nice Guys is released 3rd June 2016

The Nice Guys – Official Website

 

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Review: Money Monster

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DIR: Jodie Foster • WRI: Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf • PRO: Lara Alameddine, George Clooney, Daniel Dubiecki, Grant Heslov • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Matt Chesse • DES: Kevin Thompson • MUS: Dominic Lewis • CAST: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell

When a heavy-hitter like Money Monster lands onscreen, you immediately take notice… but that can often blind you to a movie’s real stature.  Directed by Jodie Foster, starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney with a host of more-than-capable supporting actors, this was always going to be a film that demanded to be seen.  Disappointingly, it doesn’t quite live up to the potential of its star-power investment – throughout Money Monster there is the distinct underlying feeling that this could and should have been a much better movie.

With all that, it still manages to be an entertaining piece of film – George Clooney’s ridiculous Lee Gates bounds onscreen with all the bravado of a talk-show bandit, and Julia Roberts’ exasperated producer, Patty, brings warmth and determination to the role.  Their sparring is an ode to that golden age of cinema, where professional partnerships between men and women had that tantalising air of respect and mutual understanding without descending into boring old romance.  In fairness, it is a pleasure to watch Clooney and Roberts onscreen under the gentle hand of Jodie Foster’s direction – it’s somewhat comforting to see a film made with charisma and sure-footedness by veteran thespians.

Things heat up when the borderline-MacGuffin of the piece, Kyle Budwell (ably played with dopey-eyed sadness by Jack O’Conner), arrives on stage with a bomb and a gun to point Lee and the narrative in a much firmer direction.  Blaming Lee and the ‘sure thing’ tips from his primetime programme for sending Kyle and his financial investments south, he has a bone to pick with the establishment.  Lee’s flamboyant show, a mix between Wall Street tips and gimmicky bells and whistles, had bet its bottom dollar on IBIS Global Capital – run by CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West) – which had bottomed out in the worst possible way, losing billions for investors, and Kyle’s life savings to boot.  Walt was due to be a guest on Lee’s show but has disappeared on his private jet, leaving his chief CO Diane Lester (Irish actress Caitriona Balfe, with lovely accent intact) as proxy for all of Kyle’s dangerous self-loathing and despair.  Diane quickly realises that Walt may not have been entirely honest about the causes of the huge loss, and Kyle’s actions spur her and Lee to get to the bottom of this financial crisis.  Patty remains in Lee’s ear throughout the ordeal, guiding him towards safety and resolution, and remained steadfastly on his side throughout the escalating situation.

Part of what makes Money Monster less than it should be is the non-thrilling aspect of this thriller storyline – the danger of a gunman and bomb in a television studio is mitigated by Foster’s diversions into pop culture commentary.  While her black humour can be detected in these dalliances, the references to memes, vines, snapchatting viewers and cheering crowds obsessed with fame doesn’t add to the film as it should, and instead distracts with cheap laughs.  Most cinema goers didn’t see an ironic commentary on Wall Street and global finance buried in these allusions, and instead laughed heartily at the surface-level joke – which makes it a point not made for Foster.  Strong acting means Money Monster is an entertaining piece of filmmaking, but the sometimes preachy and often fragmented storytelling leaves it just short of where it should have landed.

Sarah Griffin

98 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Money Monster is released 28th May 2016

Money Monster – Official Website

 

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Book Review: Forgotten Dreams: Revisiting Romanticism in the Cinema of Werner Herzog

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Sarah Griffin enters Laurie Ruth Johnson’s Forgotten Dreams: Revisiting Romanticism in the Cinema of Werner Herzog.

There is often a fine line between general interest film theory books and their academic counterparts aimed more directly at students and researchers.  Demarcation generally occurs in language style and – quite often – in subject matter.  Laurie Ruth Johnson’s treatment of Werner Herzog’s oeuvre through the lens of an alternative discourse on romanticism almost straddles both categories – possibly down to the commercially viable nature of Herzog’s well-known films – but delves so deeply into individual aspects of his impressive career in its chapter breakdown that interdisciplinary academics will find plenty to get lost in.

Johnson’s introduction lays the groundwork in outlining a deceptively small chapter count, and impressively links a filmmaker of the New German Cinema in the 1960s, whose move to Los Angeles in 1995 also influenced a late-career change in tone, to the continued legacy of romanticism.  Moreover, Johnson discusses cinema’s place in the recording and influence of history, romanticism’s belief in a fragmented truth, and Herzog’s particular contribution to bringing these tenets in sync – to see, in fact, “…his films as present day re-representations of significant aspects of German cultural history”(P.2).  German romanticism is the main focus of Johnson’s work, and the introduction ably breaks down the four key tenets of the movement – anti-dogmatic; always moving and questioning; reciprocity and need for people; and the belief that beauty lies in the fragmentation of an unreachable ‘whole’.

Marrying philosophy, literature, science and art, this particular vision of romanticism – Johnson contends – is an integral part of Herzog’s cinema.  Herzog himself has denied the link, though that is not in itself particularly surprising considering Germany’s rigorous post-war rejection of romanticism.  Johnson acknowledges Herzog’s stance, but feels that his interrogation of romantic ideals gives ground to her argument – as well as her contention that it is often necessary to “…question the ultimate authority of the auteur.” (P. 10)

Featuring an impressive collection of notes and an extensive bibliography, the scope for further study into micro fields of interest is vast.  This will certainly appeal to students who wish to use this book as a reference point in beginning to understand an alternative view of Werner Herzog’s long and fruitful career.  To that end, Johnson has brought together her chapters in a non-chronological (in terms of film output), subject-driven manner, providing a “concept-driven feedback loop between romanticism, German cultural history, and Herzog’s films.” (P.3)  The chapters are therefore sectioned thematically, concluding with a reading of Herzog’s own commentaries on his productions.

Chapter one is titled ‘Image and Knowledge, and begins the argument connecting Herzog to a certain alternative romanticism, focusing on how the romantic self is still very present in his work.  Chapter two, ‘Surface and Depth’, discusses Herzog’s rejection of cinema verité, and delves into his particular documentary style – querying what it is to make a film that presents an interpretation of the truth without discarding or discounting emotional influence.  From there we move to Chapter three, ‘Beauty and Sublimity’.  Here, one of the central ideas of romanticism is explored, focusing particularly on ‘the sublime’ – unique moments of beauty and awe, not common or repeated.  Johnson delves into Herzog’s choice of landscape for his movies, many of which are extreme and emotionally layered – juxtaposing the mundane with the sublime as characters act out their dramas.  Chapter four, ‘Man and Animal’, speaks of Herzog’s representations of otherness through the use of animals, combining it with the familiarity Herzog clearly feels with his filmed creatures as he interprets their consciousness.   Finally, Chapter five – ‘Sound and Silence’ – meditates on the significance of both sound and its absence in Herzog’s films.  This chapter focuses on frequent collaborators with Herzog, who are critical in the creation of – as Johnson puts it – his “…ironic, melancholy cinematic romanticism” (P. 10)

Throughout, Johnson argues for the case of an alternative romanticism, but also explores the postmodern movements between the historical period of romanticism and the present day – an interdisciplinary approach that brings psychoanalysis and poststructuralism into the discussion.  The book has a narrative flow that in fact seems to reflect Johnson’s interpretation of Herzog’s work; “…Herzog’s documentaries and features present stories that are comprehensible yet often non-chronological, reminiscent but not nostalgic, technically challenging without being inaccessible, and full of sublime, yet incomplete (ruined, tangled, even wasted) settings.” (P. 9)  Her insightful and lyrical style of writing compliments the discussion of a filmmaker whose work is at once conversational and piercing, civilised and wild, rational and yet passionate.

Forgotten Dreams is a worthy addition to any interdisciplinary study of Herzog’s films – and the influence of alternative German romanticism as well as formal romanticism on moviemaking – though it has to be said that the pictures let down the final product somewhat.  Printed cheaply and much too small to be of real use, they have the slightly distasteful flavour of an afterthought.  This is particularly disappointing for comparing artworks to Herzog’s mise-en-scéne, and quite a big drawback when using pictures to substantiate an argument on the visible romanticism of Herzog’s works.  Despite this slight negative, Forgotten Dreams is an impressive unravelling of Werner Herzog’s valuable contribution to cinema through a viewpoint not previously attempted, shining a light on some intriguing cultural influences and their effects on this fascinating filmmaker.

 

  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Camden House (1 Feb. 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1571139117
  • ISBN-13: 978-1571139115
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 1.8 x 23.6 cm
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Review: Risen

 

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DIR: Kevin Reynolds • WRI: Kevin Reynolds, Paul Aiello • PRO: Patrick Aiello, Mickey Liddell, Pete Shilaimon • DOP: Lorenzo Senatore • ED: Steve Mirkovich • DES: Stefano Maria Ortolani • MUS: Roque Baños • CAST: Tom Felton, Joseph Fiennes, Cliff Curtis

I’m not entirely sure what possessed Joseph Fiennes to headline this mediocre epic… perhaps he was lured by the promise of a sort of biblical Mythbusters-style retelling of the crucifixion.  It certainly begins that way, with Fiennes’ Clavius returning on Pilate’s command (Peter Firth) from pacifying a Zealot uprising led by Barabbas to quell a new type of revolution.  Pilate has crucified Yesuah, (New Zealander Cliff Curtis), as he has created a following among the common people who claim him as their Messiah, and wants Clavius to oversee his death and disperse his supporters.  Clavius is given a new partner (or whatever the Roman legionary equivalent is) for the task at hand, and he reluctantly brings Lucius (Tom Felton – back with a Harry Potter name) along to assess this threat to the Roman Empire.

Yesuah and his followers have claimed that should he die upon the cross, he will rise again in three days.  Both Pilate and the faithless elders of Jerusalem want to ensure otherwise – or, at the very least, prevent devotees from stealing his body from the tomb and claiming a resurrection.  Clavius sets men to guard the tomb, as well as sealing the body inside with a huge stone bound with thick ropes.  Come dawn, the body is gone… and here begins the promise of an alternative story of the resurrection.

It seems as though Clavius, a logical man with the eye of a cop drama detective, will find rational explanations for apparent miracles, and provide an unconventional telling of a story we have heard a thousand times.  He swaps detective-sounding quips with Lucius while he grimaces, and drinks from a ceramic mug as though it’s coffee from styrofoam in The Bill.  Instead of running with this interesting angle while he searches for Yesuah’s disciples and the stolen body the story heads straight to lore, and he finds the risen Yesuah as hale and hearty as ever.  It’s as unambiguous as that, and he immediately begins to follow Yesuah’s disciples with a view to getting closer to this enigmatic – and miraculous – man.  From here, the film becomes less about questioning faith and belief, and more a paint-by-numbers retelling of the Easter story.

Coming from a man who gave us Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Waterworld, (Kevin Reynolds), it’s no surprise that Risen is a mildly irritating yet sometimes entertaining sprawling epic.  The levity gives an almost buddy-cop feel to the ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’, and it’s almost an interesting take on the tale – seeing the resurrection through the eyes of an unbeliever whose job it is to smother threats to a massive Empire.  It never quite knows what it’s trying to do, though, and ends up dwelling on piecemeal moments of Fiennes’ fine acting and facial expressions.  The film really hinges very much on whether – like me – you enjoy these old-style biblical tales that emphasise passionate speeches, theatrical costumes and pageantry.  There’s nothing terribly wrong with Risen, and I’d happily watch it on television some lazy Sunday afternoon, but there’s just not enough here to keep it from being, ultimately, a pretty forgettable movie.

Sarah Griffin

107 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

Risen is released 18th March 2016

Risen – Official Website

 

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Report: After the Chick Flick: Female Identities and Hollywood Film

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Sarah Griffin enjoyed a lively discussion at ‘After the Chick Flick: Female Identities and Hollywood Film’, which followed a screening of Howard Hawks’ 1940 screwball comedy His Girl Friday at the IFI.

 

Panel discussions on film screenings are often an outsider’s way into the more critical side of cinema – where the deep (and meandering) thoughts can really be let loose.  So it proved with ‘After the Chick Flick: Female Identities and Hollywood Film’ in the IFI on Saturday 5th of March, with a lively discussion taking place after a screening of His Girl Friday (1940).  An emblematic screwball comedy, the film was a jumping-off point to dissect the genre commonly referred to as the ‘Chick Flick’; charting some of its history, analysing its place in our modern world of female action stars, and questioning the generally held belief that the style has outplayed its usefulness.  The term is often used pejoratively – dismissively aligning (and maligning) disparate movies together – but has also denoted a certain type of film that remains, as Prof. Diane Negra stated, our premier genre of intimacy.

Joining Prof. Negra for post-film discussion was Dr. Deborah Jermyn and Dr. Shelley Cobb, speaking to a good number of attendees who had laughed their way together through Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell’s classic battle of the sexes. To begin, Prof. Negra gave a brief overview of the period of generic stability the Chick Flick enjoyed from the 1980s on, and how it has steadily declined in representation – to the delight of its many detractors.  Coinciding with the post-millennial explosion of the Bromance, there are lots of factors to explore in how the Chick Flick has adapted to this brave new world, and whether it has survived the recent evolution or been left firmly in the past.  In the time given for discussion, we could try skim the surface of whether the Chick Flick is worth investigating, worth considering and, in the end, worth preserving.

Dr. Jermyn qualified her position by telling the gathered group that she is currently researching Nancy Meyers, a name synonymous with Chick Flicks and someone who has actively revelled in the moniker through her prolific career.  As it happens, Meyers had a strong connection to His Girl Friday, as Dr. Jermyn explained – having found much in the film to emulate in her own filmmaking, perhaps most importantly the emphasis placed on dialogue.  Her own output echoes the back-and-forth battle of the sexes in these early film types (not yet pigeon-holed as ‘women’s movies’), where the courtship was more egalitarian in nature.  Thanks to postfeminism and all its wily tricks, Dr. Jermyn pointed out that despite the rolling on of years we are still as preoccupied with the same central question this 1940s classic grappled with: can women have it all?

Dr. Shelley spoke about her own influences, most particularly her studies of Jane Austen’s works and how they have filtered down into movie making and the representation of romance.  She questioned how useful or problematic the ‘Chick Flick’ term is, and the shift in culture influenced on all sides by the solidifying of the ‘Bromance’ movie, raunch culture, Judd Apatow’s brand of feminism, and the rise of the ‘female friendship’ sub-genre.  Also on the table were the recent ‘alternative’ Chick Flicks that (mostly male) critics laud as turning the genre on its head, saving the style or representing ‘good’ feminism – Bridesmaids (2011) and Trainwreck (2015), to name two high-profile examples.  As with the best panel discussions, the greatest revelations were those you felt you could and should have seen yourself – the decline of star-driven Chick Flicks, and actresses whose names you could automatically associate with a certain type of film.  These are stars of the past we all recognise; Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon and Katherine Heigl.  Female stars now appear to actively avoid the genre, relying more and more on action films to anchor an acting persona.  Yet the Chick Flick was an area where women were allowed to take up space – what do we lose in its exit?

Prof. Negra talked again about Chick Flicks’ movement away from the playfulness and intimacy of a film like His Girl Friday.  The ’80s marked this diversion, highlighted by Nora Ephron’s filmic belief that men and women are totally different, resulting in a cinematic style-glut summed up by Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle (1993) – a couple presented as two separate entities until the very final act.  When talking about intimacy, (and the lack thereof), in visual representation it would be hard to avoid speaking about the pornification of modern society.  By sheer ubiquity, it has affected Chick Flicks perhaps more than any other genre in terms of the representation of courtship and intimacy, leading to a response of cinematic chasteness.  There is a sense of generic exhaustion about the Chick Flick, and an uncertainty in the current gender order that means ensemble casts and female friendship movies take precedence.

As with the very best of panel discussions, the questions from attendees were rapid and insightful.  Emerging adulthood and extended adolescence in millennials was raised, with an enthusiastic response from the panel – how this has changed Chick Flicks, making it harder to stage a happy ending in terms that are recognisable to cinema-goers often forced by economic situations to continue living in arrested development.  It was pointed out that the shared cultural experience of cinema has largely disappeared, apart from behemoths like Star Wars, and shifted to television – another suggested nail in the coffin of Chick Flicks.  Event movies are, of course, big business, and in a production culture that largely favours worldwide releases and global integration, the banter of the Chick Flick has fallen to the wayside in favour of more easily marketable vehicles.  With the #OscarsSoWhite controversy still a strong part of the conversation, the important issue of Chick Flicks’ essential whiteness and concern with affluence was well worth discussing.  The working class romance has largely been abandoned, and while ensemble movies allow for token diversity in casting, the genre is still very committed to whiteness.

The discussion had to be halted because of time constraints, but there was a feeling of eagerness and enthusiasm that could have kept it going for hours more.  Combining a screening with a panel discussion works so beautifully to bring everyone to the same point of reference for conversation, and this one opened up the concept of Chick Flicks as a genre worthy of much more thought.  It provided a free space in which to let the inner film nerd out to chat with like-minded people, and agree and disagree in security.  The audience left with loud chatter, and a thirst for more – surely the job of any event like this, and boding well for the coming year at the IFI.

 

 

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Podcast: Interview with Diane Negra, Professor of Film Studies and Screen Culture and Head of Film Studies at UCD

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This Saturday (5th March) the IFI hosts a panel discussion looking at female identities and Hollywood film followed by a screening of Howard Hawks’ 1940 screwball comedy His Girl Friday. Diane Negra, Professor of Film Studies and Screen Culture and Head of Film Studies at UCD, along with Dr. Deborah Jermyn (Roehampton University) and Dr. Shelley Cobb (University of Southampton) will address a diverse set of questions in relation to the continued viability of the ‘chick flick’ as a means of coming to grips with some of the ideological uncertainties, ambivalences and industrial shifts that currently characterise female media representation.

Sarah Griffin sat down with Diane Negra to talk about Saturday’s event and discuss the historical roots of the contemporary chick flick, the representation of women in chick flicks, and what the post epitaph chick flick is.

 

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Tickets: €10 for both screening and panel discussion (tickets not sold separately) are available at www.ifi.ie. There will be a short break after the screening (approx. 30 mins) before the discussion starts.

Diane Negra is Professor of Film Studies and Screen Culture and Head of Film Studies at University College Dublin. She is the author, editor or co-editor of ten books including the forthcoming The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness (Routledge, 2017). Her work in media, gender and cultural studies has been widely influential and recognised with a range of research awards and fellowships. She currently serves as Co-Editor-in Chief of Television and New Media. Professor Negra has served on the Board of Directors of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and currently serves on the Board for Console-ing Passions.

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Review: The Night Before

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DIR: Jonathan Levin • WRI: Jonathan Levin, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir, Evan Goldberg • PRO: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Zene Baker • DES: Annie Spitz • MUS; Marco Beltrami, Miles Hankins CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lizzy Caplan, Michael Shannon, Seth Rogen, Jillian Bell

 

If you’ve seen This is the End, then you already know how The Night Before might go – someone is trying unsuccessfully to be an adult before super-fun drugs and alcohol enter the picture, hijinks ensue, and life is shown to be generally consequence-free.  Oh, and there’s laughing.  Lots and lots of laughing.

The ‘Christmas Movie’ has been done every way possible – you name it, we’ve seen it: heartwarming Scrooge tales of selfishness overcome by the holiday spirit; jaunty cartoon animal adventures; families reunited across great divides; Christmas miracles; Santa to the rescue…the list, much like the onslaught of advertising at this time of year, is endless.  Much less common in modern cinema is the irreverent Christmas movie made for children of the ’80s in their mid-thirties who snort at nostalgic fart jokes and unnecessary sex and violence, and to whom ‘adulthood’ still seems a strange and mysterious world.

Thank Santa, then, for Seth Rogan – a lazy avatar par extraordinaire, who ‘acts’ the stoner persona so perfectly that it’s impossible not to laugh.  Rogan’s Isaac and his friend Chris (Anthony Mackie) make a pact to their orphaned best friend, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), to always spend Christmas together, partying and being each other’s family for the holidays.  As they grow older, their actual families and responsibilities begin to take precedence, and the tradition starts to lose its lustre, culminating in this – their final Christmas night of parties.  Isaac is expecting his first baby with Betsy (the fantastic Jillian Bell), Chris is a suspiciously famous football player, while Ethan has barely progressed beyond his teenage dreams.  Through the years at bars they had heard tell of a mythical Great Gatsby style party, The Nutcracker Ball, where all of your wildest dreams come true.  Their spirit guide directs them as they journey towards this Shangri La, in the form of Mr. Green (played with a quiet intensity by Michael Shannon), the local drug dealer with a heart who might just hold the key to happiness.  Or, at least, something very similar.  Will this final night together teach them life lessons, and reaffirm their friendship in unexpected ways?  Probably not, but then, narrative is not really the point – the only reason to see this, or any, comedy is to laugh.

For that, then, The Night Before does what it says on the tin.  There are more than enough laugh-out-loud moments, quotable silly exchanges, hilariously excessive drug and alcohol intake, and most importantly of all at this time of year, not a single serious moral to be found at the end of the night.  While not at the same level as This is the End, perhaps the pinnacle of Seth Rogan’s loveable stoner goofball alter-ego, it nonetheless offers a little more than the typical Ben Stiller-style family humour that passes for comedy lately.  Worth it for Seth Rogan’s irrepressive giggles alone, The Night Before is a quick and funny antidote to the sickly-sweetness that generally pervades this season.

Sarah Griffin

16
101 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Night Before is released 4th December 2015

The Night Before – Official Website

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Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

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DIR: Francis Lawrence • WRI Peter Craig, Danny Strong Pro: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Jo Willems • ED: Alan Edward Bell, Mark Yoshikawa • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

There’s something almost redundant about writing a review for a movie like this – a blockbuster ending to a beloved series with marketing on hyperdrive doesn’t need much else to sell tickets. These types of instalments can sometimes feel critic-proof, which is what leads so many of them to be sloppy and… well… just not quite good enough.

Splitting the final book into two movies, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, was certainly the right idea – and not just in terms of moneymaking. Mockingjay carries the most action of the series, as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) comes face to face with her inescapable destiny; an all-out war with the Capitol of Panem. However, the book also carries the emotional weight of the story as Katniss struggles with her intertwining destinies, discovering that there is no ‘right’ decision in war, and that suffering for both you and your loved ones is unavoidable. This salient point, probably the most devastating in this series of young adult novels, is lost in a movie that glories in tactical victories and focuses too heavily on Katniss’s love-triangle with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Despite its long running time (137 minutes), the movie can’t seem to decide which story it wants to tell more – Katniss Everdeen: war hero, or Katniss Everdeen: lovesick teenager.

That’s not to say the movie is a total wash, as many of the scenes are handled extremely well, and the characterisations are generally spot on. Taken as a standalone, minus the weight of its source material, Mockingjay Part 2 draws all of the threads of story together to a satisfying conclusion. It brings us clearly from Katniss’ beginnings as a volunteer tribute in the first games to her final stand against a tyrannical system of government. Peeta’ rescue from the clutches of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the last movie, resulting in his brainwashing and attempted murder of Katniss, adds a seamless flow between both parts, and the film hits the ground running. The trouble might be that there is just too much story to tell, and characters like Johanna (Jena Malone) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) fall by the wayside in an attempt to make sense of Katniss’ journey. Still, we spend enough time with Katniss and Gale, Katniss and Peeta, Peeta and Gale, and Katniss by herself to gain insight into how the events of the previous three movies have set the scene for the concluding chapter.

The sad loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, during the shoot forced his character to take a back seat, but Woody Harrelson (as Haymitch Abernathy) and Julianne Moore (as President Alma Coin) ably fill the crucial moments with appropriate gravitas. Fans of the books will no doubt delight in pivotal scenes – the storming of ‘The Nut’ in District Two; the sewers of the Capitol; the Star Squad’s propos – while mourning the loss of others. Those who have followed the movies will get closure on their character’s stories, with enough surprises and shocking twists to keep interest high throughout the running time.

Exciting by times and definitely entertaining, the film has done enough to finish the series with a bang, but hasn’t quite lived up to its own hype. With so much talent at their disposal, a cast of fantastic actors, the budget to recreate terrifying mutts and epic battle sequences, a rock-solid narrative to work from, and an army of fans ready to be enraptured, Mockingjay Part 2 disappointingly falls short of its own potential.

Sarah Griffin

15A
122 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is released 20th November 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – Official Website

 

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Interview: Conor Horgan, director of ‘The Queen of Ireland’

Conor Horgan

Sarah Griffin sat down with Conor Horgan to discuss The Queen of Ireland.

The Queen of Ireland has been an unmitigated success on its opening weekend, but sitting down with director Conor Horgan in the whirlwind days preceding its release, there was still a sense of anxiousness. A film that represents the culmination of over five years of hard work and dedication, it carries a hugely personal weight for both Conor and his subject, Rory O’Neill.

Knowing the timeline, I wondered how Conor envisaged the documentary structurally when he began filming, not knowing the narrative arc he would eventually be gifted. “Rory is very interesting and is very politically astute and engaged, so I knew that at the very least there would be more than just a portrait of a fabulous drag queen. There was a political engagement level to it. But none of us  involved had any idea how big a part that would end up being. We were just hanging on for dear life and filming as much as we could.”

With the increased visibility of Panti Bliss, there was a chance of over-exposure, but The Queen of Ireland manages to bring a wealth of unseen footage to the screen. “I suppose people think that they’re very familiar with every aspect of the story. Panti’s been on the Late Late, on the Saturday Night Show, but seeing Panti behind the scenes is, I think, very interesting to people. And I think even more so seeing Rory behind the scenes because Rory is an unknown quantity.”

Rory has enjoyed a certain amount of personal privacy up to this point, but allowed Conor and his crew open access to his life. As Conor puts it, “the honesty, and the willingness to engage on that level is what makes it a film.” For those watching, whether the lifestyle is alien to you or not, it’s also what makes it so relatable – the personal aspect. “I had to write the director’s statement as part of the funding document and the first line of my document was ‘I identify with Panti Bliss.’”

Delving deep into Rory’s life, his parents are brought to the forefront at Panti’s homecoming gig back in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo. Conor clearly feels at home with the O’Neills, having spent so much time with them. In fact, Rory’s sister Edel even suggested that Rory leave for the Ballinrobe show from his parents’ house with them alongside him. “‘I’ll tell you what’, she says to us, ‘it’ll make great television.’ And she’s right! And actually it’s one of my favourite moments in the film. There’s a vulnerability to Rory at that point that’s just really affecting. And I’ve a lot of admiration for him, because, at that moment, you’re not thinking that the country as a whole has given its approval to ‘the gays’, it’s still the little town that he came from.”

The general tone of the film reflects this familiarity in a way that doesn’t feel invasive, engaging with Rory’s life without being voyeuristic. Rory has said before that his one ‘talent’, the only one he will admit to, is his ability to find people to collaborate with who are good at what they do. He therefore works with people that he trusts, and it is evident throughout the movie that he trusted Conor completely. “I knew that I was in a privileged position,” Conor says, “and I did not want to abuse that trust in any way. And not just with the film, but because Rory deserved better than that.”

Conor also has that knack for collaborations, and among his many supportive crew members he particularly praises Mick Mahon, his editor: “he is just terrific, and he put his heart and his soul into it. I’m there beside him at the front of the engine room, and it’s like watching a fighter pilot in action. He’s physically wrestling the material into shape.” For any feature the editing is a crucial structural device, but even more so with a documentary, as Conor acknowledges, “Even with the best will in the world, you are finding your actual story in the editing room. I always think that any kind of film editing process is in some ways a creative argument between the director and the editor, and the material wins.”

The narrative structure was, of course, cemented by Pantigate, the 2014 debacle of libel suits that brought Rory into the national consciousness. It’s a tumultuous time to look back upon for Conor, watching it unfold for Rory in real time. “He was always giving out to me, you know, around the Pantigate thing because he knew that on one level I was thrilled that all of this stuff was happening. Well, I was thrilled on two levels, and I said it to him. I was thrilled for the film, but I was also thrilled for the country, because I knew that this would be a good thing ultimately. I think everybody did.”

It certainly seems, from an outside point of view, that Pantigate gave Rory the opportunity to build a stage, and to speak from it on his own terms. This initially took the form of the now world-famous ‘Noble Call’ in the Abbey Theatre. “That speech in some ways crystallised some of the great things about Panti, with Rory behind Panti, which is grace under pressure, incredible articulateness, and underlying that, an awful lot of heart, because that was a vulnerable thing to do. Panti, and Rory,  has described Panti many times as a suit of armour. Panti is always front of house, camera-ready, able and available give a quip, but that was Panti and Rory interchangeably and that’s the power of that. That’s why the speech has such far-reaching effect. Fintan O’Toole, who is not given to exaggeration, said that it was one of the greatest speeches given in this country since Daniel O’Connell, and I would agree.”

The response was immediate, taken up by advocates, both celebrity and otherwise,  around the world. Panti became a byword for a discussion about societal homophobia and the possibilities for change in the future. The necessary conversations therefore began over a year before the referendum for Marriage Equality, despite Rory’s humble protestations about his role in the movement. But it isn’t exactly politics that occupies Rory’s mind when he decides to speak out about injustice. “Rory has no political ambition,” Conor points out, “which is the reason that he can do what he does. But he does have a very strong sense of what’s right, which is also the reason he does what he does. And the fact that this, until relatively recently, benighted country under the cosh of the Catholic Church and a lot of other things just like it, has taken this giant drag queen to its heart is just fucking wonderful. If he was just a great drag queen then maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Panti’s a great drag queen who’s also just really, really smart, really able to formulate and deliver compelling arguments for equality.”

Indeed Panti can articulate, but the film isn’t just a showcase for the undoubted talents of this consummate performer, it shows the maturing of a country in a very personal manner. “In a way, we had the big political end,” Conor continues, “but the personal, as Rory says in the film,  always trumps the political. It’s one of the reasons the Marriage Equality referendum was passed, because people realised that it was about actual people’s lives, not just a technical, political or intellectual argument.”

There’s no denying that the ‘Yes’ vote is a climax in the film; the excitement that filled the country sweeping even the camera crew along in its infectious joy. “There is a shot of me in the film outside PantiBar on Capel Street after the official result is being announced, and I’ve got a huge beaming smile on my face, and Kate McCullough, [cinematographer], has a huge smile, and Aoife Kelly [assistant producer]. We’re all incredibly emotional, because you can’t not be, because this is real stuff and it matters. And you know, we all voted, we all took part in this, and to see how well it turned out is just massively emotional. It doesn’t stop you doing your job. It just makes it a very, very good day in work.”

Still, where The Queen of Ireland shines most is in small moments, those wonderfully private times where we watch Panti walk down the street of Ballinrobe, flanked by family, or listen to Rory talk candidly about his life off stage. In the end, this documentary is a very personal testament to a public figure who happened to play a crucial role in our country’s evolution. “Sure you couldn’t make it up,” Conor acknowledges, “and if you did, nobody would believe you.”

 

The Queen of Ireland is currently in cinemas

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Queen of Ireland

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DIR: Conor Horgan • WRI: Conor Horgan, Philip McMahon • ED: Mick Mahon • CAST: Panti Bliss

Drag queens, echoing the essentially political role of court jesters of old, comment on society – sometimes flamboyantly and hilariously – from their place on the fringe. Pandora ‘Panti’ Bliss is Ireland’s most famous drag queen, thrown into the international limelight by the shameful behaviour of extremist conservatives and our national broadcaster, and propelled to centre stage in the campaign for Marriage Equality. There is, however, more to Rory O’Neill and Panti, his loud and proud creation – and considering the further elevation of Panti to almost mythic proportions in recent times, a documentary five years in the making couldn’t be more welcome. They say never meet your heroes, but The Queen of Ireland belies this adage, intimately introducing us to the story behind the legend.

Conor Horgan began filming his friend Rory O’Neill in 2010, following the professional life of a successful pub owner, stage artist and drag queen, while also uncovering the deeply personal life of the man behind the heels. As the cameras were rolling long before ‘Pantigate’, the film explores the many facets of Rory’s life, including his background and creative advancement, before alighting on recent defining moments. The narrative arc therefore has a much warmer touch – no doubt due to the trust Rory felt in Conor’s ability to bring his story to life – and manages to blend the personal and political seamlessly, and without contradiction. From his beginnings in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo to the Japanese club scene, return to Ireland in the 1990s, and on to his stratospheric burst onto the world stage, the camera is a constant companion – and it is a testament to director Conor Horgan and editor Mick Mahon’s capable self-control that the running time is kept to a neat 82 minutes.

Interspersing footage with an impressive line-up of talking heads, Rory’s influence and influences can be seen in his collaborations over the years. We relive Panti’s naissance on Tokyo stages as CandiPanti with Angelo Pitillo, hosting the Alternative Miss Ireland (‘Gay Christmas’) pageant in Dublin to fundraise for HIV/AIDS charities, stage productions with Philip McMahon, and Panti’s present incarnation as pub landlady of Capel Street’s flagship establishment, Pantibar. Throughout the film, we work towards the unignorably present Pantigate situation, the result of which was perhaps the exact opposite intention of the instigators. Panti’s position as “accidental and occasional gay rights activist” – as she called herself in 2014’s amazing ‘Noble Call’ on the Abbey Stage – was cemented by these events, and the video of her onstage in our national theatre became a worldwide sensation. By taking a potentially devastating situation and turning it on its head, Panti simultaneously called out the oppressiveness of a homophobic society while entreating us to become aware of it. The conversation about Marriage Equality was thus begun a full year before the referendum was due to take place.

There are, of course, colourfully ecstatic moments in Dublin Castle as the Yes vote carries through, a memento of our recent national celebration of love and hopefulness for a more inclusive society. It’s difficult not to feel emotional watching the joy unfold onscreen as Panti strolls through the crowds, and her amazing ability to move people to laughter even while our eyes fill with tears is a heartening reminder of her skill as a consummate entertainer.

Despite being gifted such an amazing narrative direction with Pantigate and the Equality vote, Conor’s film manages to be a much more touching and personal piece than these world-famous events might imply. As much as interviewees like David Norris, Niall Sweeney, Una Mullally and Tonie Walsh talk about Panti’s fame, they also speak about the erudite intelligence of Rory, who brings such humanity and thoughtfulness to his creation. Two sides of the same coin, we are introduced to a complex figure who exists on many levels, but leave the cinema feeling as though we’re a bit closer to knowing the person. A glorious testament to a national treasure, The Queen of Ireland is a documentary that needed to exist, and that it comes to our screens so perfectly formed is down to hard work, wonderful collaborators, supportive family members and the essential brilliance of Panti Bliss.

Long live the Queen!

Sarah Griffin

15A (see IFCO for details)

82 minutes

The Queen of Ireland is released 23rd October 2015

 

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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DIR:  John Madden  • WRI: Ol Parker • PRO: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin • DOP: Ben Smithard • MUS: Thomas Newman • DES: Martin Childs • CAST: Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Richard Gere, Judi Dench

Four years on from the first instalment, the golden-years residents of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and the Beautiful have acclimatised to life in Jaipur, India. We check in on new couple Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy), as they manoeuvre the difficult world of dating after decades of marriage to other people. Muriel (Maggie Smith) is keeping pace as the acerbic right-hand woman keeping the hotel management in check. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are finding out that leaving behind the Lothario lifestyle isn’t as easy as you might think, and Madge (Celia Imrie) is trying to choose between two suitors in her own particular Blanche DuBois way. Meanwhile, the exuberant owner of the hotel, Sonny (Dev Patel), dreams of expansion as he simultaneously plans his wedding to the woman of his dreams Sunaina (Tina Desai), but a proposed partnership with a big hotel chain brings undercover hotel inspectors who might derail everything. New arrivals Guy (Richard Gere) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig) shake things up for the residents, as complications occur in everyone’s dream of the simple life in India.

 

There is plenty to like about The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – the cast might as well be old friends, so comfortable are they (and us) with their position onscreen; the colours and sounds of Jaipur are simply gorgeous; the script manages a few laughs here and there; and there’s even a new love story to keep us involved. But somehow it falls a little flat – perhaps behind all the colour there’s just too much awareness of how much this resembles an escapist, post-colonial dream of a passive India. There is even a Bollywood dance number – which Patel and Desai perform with gusto, and what looks like genuine enjoyment, but it still has an undercurrent of performative traditionalism, especially since the guests of honour at a family wedding are unaccountably a group of English and American old folks. Fans of the original might enjoy reacquainting themselves with the characters, checking in on how they have conquered Jaipur and all of its vagaries, but there isn’t a lot here to pull in converts. The ending of the first film left suggestions of happiness to come, whether through Sonny’s marriage, Evelyn and Douglas’s fledgling romance, or Muriel’s shedding of her racist beginnings and embracing of Indian culture. This sequel, then, has an air of wish-fulfilment – giving the audience an answer to all of those lovely hints of happy endings…but giving an audience what they want is rarely a recipe for a great movie, and the film stumbles along wearily trying to tell sub-plot after sub-plot while never really finding an actual narrative arc.

 

While generally harmless, and at times enjoyable enough in terms of the acting, this sequel was a bit unnecessary and just raises more questions about the achievable life of enlightenment it purports to depict. While it’s never exactly a chore to spend a couple of hours in the company of some of the finest actors to ever grace the silver screen, the film lacks the verve of the original in a way that’s quite hard to get on board with. Perhaps it’s time to leave these characters to their golden years without disturbance.

 

Sarah Griffin

PG (See IFCO for details)
122 minutes

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is released 27th February 2015

 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  – Official Website

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

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DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian • PRO: Peter Chernin, Mohamed El Raie, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott, Jenno Topping • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Billy Rich • DES: Arthur Max • MUS: Alberto Iglesias • CAST: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley

Going purely by the high-octane trailers, you’d be forgiven for thinking Exodus: Gods and Kings was a non-stop action movie, where Moses becomes a sort of biblical Rambo. However, Ridley Scott seems to be going for a mix of his millennial opus Gladiator and Darren Aronofsky’s recent surrealist Noah, adding existential wandering and buckets of internal conflict to bring up the running time. This means that there is far less action than advertised, but tons of character development and time for reflection.

Christian Bale is, of course, intense and serious as he portrays the inner pain of Moses, even in the earlier scenes when he and Ramses fight on the same side. Joel Edgerton brings the evil Ramses to screen with dramatic flair, defying his father Seti’s (John Turtorro) wishes that he and Moses live as brothers, and works with his scheming mother Tuva (a criminally underused Sigourney Weaver) to ensure that power rests solely with himself. He defies Moses’ God, recently introduced to Moses himself by newfound brethren amongst the Hebrew slaves – including Ben Kingsley’s character, Nun, and Aaron Paul’s non-entity, Joshua. Eventually, God joins Moses in his fight, and brings the ten plagues down upon Egypt to try force Ramses to acknowledge his power, and release the slaves.

Scott clearly relished portraying the plagues, and they look amazing – watching an entire river run with blood, a wall of flies fill the sky all around, or a darkness descending that will take the firstborn sons of Egypt is every bit as frightening as it should be. These moments, though, are not enough to lift Exodus out of an overall feeling of tedium… and the movie feels every inch its 150-minute running time. An ending upon an ending, Ramses then pursues Moses into the waters of the Red Sea, at which point the movie simultaneously climaxes and begins to dwindle, unsure of how to finish this renowned tale.

This does not make for the sprawling epic Scott clearly imagined. While visually the movie is often stunning, with some beautifully choreographed fight scenes that are every bit as intense as the previews promised, it lags far too much in extensive side-stories, and tries to walk a very fine line between religious fervour and straightforward drama. It doesn’t always work, and while Bale admirably portrays a very human Moses, the character’s conversations with God are made with an attempt at ambiguity that just comes across heavy-handed. Yes, this is largely down to the source material – Moses leading the chosen people out of slavery and into the desert after a series of plagues convinces the Pharaoh to let them leave isn’t the most subtle of religious tales – but the screenplay works harder at appearing clever than ever actually saying anything new about an ancient legend.

Everything about the anticipation for Exodus screamed ‘epic’, but the delivery is more ‘daytime TV bible stories’ (with expensive CGI) than anything else, and unfortunately lacks any real heart that might lift it from banality.

Sarah Griffin

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
150 minutes.
Exodus: Gods and Kings
is released 26th December.

Exodus: Gods and Kings  – Official Website

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Annie

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DIR: Will Gluck • WRI: Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna • PRO: Jay Brown, Will Gluck, James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Caleeb Pinkett, Tyran Smith, Will Smith, Jay Z • DOP: Michael Grady • ED: Tia Nolan • DES: Marcia Hinds • MUS: Greg Kurstin • CAST: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Rose Byrne

Remakes and sequels everywhere…and yet another nostalgic part of childhood has been revived and revised with the musical delights of ‘little orphan Annie’. Having grown up with the 1982 film version, where Daddy Warbucks’ heart was melted by the cheeky redhead he found on the streets, it seemed unnecessary to rehash a classic. However, though the modernisation of Annie is an unlooked-for present, it turns out to be a whimsical gift to a new generation of children.

The story has remained basically the same, save for the modern updates – particularly musical ones. Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a foster child living in a cramped apartment with her fellow foster children, under the less-than-watchful eye of their carer, Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). A chance encounter with aspiring-mayor and successful businessman Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) and his assistant Grace (Rose Byrne) leads to a relationship of convenience: Will needs Annie to make him look good to voters, and Annie gets to enjoy the richer side of life. But, of course, there are others who wish to profit from both Annie’s innocence and Stacks’ money. Based on the 1977 Broadway musical of the same name, (which took inspiration from the 1924 comic strip, in turn based on the 1885 poem!), and taking the mantel from the beloved 1982 film, this incarnation of ‘little orphan Annie’ brings the story to the modern streets of New York City.

Wallis is the perfect choice for playing Annie – being, as she is, a young child thrust into the spotlight at an early age. In 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild her Oscar-nominated performance astounded audiences, and she brings that very serious acting skill to Annie, along with a natural cheekiness that comes across in every scene. Foxx actually works very well as the stuffy businessman who eventually succumbs to Annie’s charms, and his surprisingly liquid singing voice fits the funky new sounds of the soundtrack. Diaz’s Hannigan is as hilariously perfect as a modern alcoholic foster-carer can be, and her singing and dancing is spot-on. Rose Byrne’s voice is by times lacklustre, but the combination of everyone wholeheartedly throwing themselves into each musical number is refreshingly fun.

Yes, there is the question of why we need remakes when the 1982 version is so beloved, and there is sometimes an ‘empty-vessel’ feeling to the film where it doesn’t quite connect with the emotions of the original, but this is a pleasurable update that children (especially younger ones) will enjoy. Certainly those around me were glued to every second of the story – literally sitting on the edge of their seats for the final scenes. Thanks, in part, to producers Jay-Z and Will Smith, the songs have been modernised and funkified, and the all-singing and all-dancing cast members look so gleefully involved in every moment that it’s nearly impossible not to get swept up with it!

 

Sarah Griffin

PG (See IFCO for details)
118 minutes.
Annie
is released 19th December.

Annie – Official Website

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Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For

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DIR: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller • WRI: Elan Mastai • PRO: Sergei Bespalov, Aaron Kaufman, Stephen L’Heureux, Mark C. Manuel, Robert Rodriguez • ED: Robert Rodriguez • DOP: Robert Rodriguez  DES: Caylah Eddleblute Steve Joyner  MUS; Robert Rodriguez, Carl Thiel • Cast: Jessica Alba, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis

Released just under a decade since their first foray into the fully-digital world of Sin City, creator Frank Miller and director Robert Rodriguez continue their buddying up to the realm of neo-noir graphic-filming with a new chapter.  Anticipation was high for this one: with so much time to work on a sequel to such a well-received original, it seemed like the combination of Rodriguez’ dedication to the adaptation and Miller’s stellar source material could do no wrong.

 

Unfortunately for all involved, the length of time between the ground-breaking first and pretty-similar second hasn’t actually helped the cause.  When Sin City burst on the scene in 2005 with all the brilliance of something fresh, it looked and felt like a new era of cinema. Digital filming showed its unique possibilities, and manipulation of colour and bleached setups did the impossible in bringing a graphic novel to full visual realisation onscreen.  Most importantly, the stories, characters and actors were captivating from the get-go.  A Dame to Kill For does suffer somewhat, then, from comparison to the first – a constant challenge for sequels of all types, but perhaps most particularly for movies with a distinctive storytelling technique. All the notes of cheesiness, brutality and hyper-masculinity are in place as before, but somehow it never quite engages.

 

Most of the fault lies with the chosen storylines, but the actors must also take responsibility.  While notables like Jessica Alba (Nancy) and Mickey Rourke (Marv) reprise their roles, it is with visibly less enthusiasm, or perhaps too much awareness of the undercurrent of ‘coolness’ attached to their characters.  Newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt promises much, delivers some, but fades into the background far too quickly to really get a grip on him – unfortunate for an actor who generally performs.  Taking over Dwight’s old face is Josh Brolin, whose B-movie credentials should make him a perfect insert for Sin City’s palette.  He gamely attacks the storyline of A Dame to Kill For, battling the raw sexuality of Eva Green’s Ava, but his monotonous narration is probably one of the worst things about the movie.  Surprisingly, this instalment takes the power away from its women and wallows in some pretty boring damsel-in-distress tableaus…Ava is the only female character to really grab the moment and terrorise the screen, which is especially shocking considering Gail (Rosario Dawson) makes an appearance.  One of the finest fighters in Old Town, Gail has always kept the girls safe and police out, but in this story barely touches the significant badassery Sin City originally afforded her.  Even Nancy’s angry transformation comes too little too late, and the intertwining stories do little to alleviate the flat feeling that permeates throughout.

 

Perhaps more thrills might have ensued had the screening been in 3D, as there were certainly scenes that were made specifically to wow the eyes of a 3D viewer, but overall it’s undeniable that A Dame to Kill For repeats the formula of Sin City without recapturing its essence.  Visually conforming to the beauty of the first, it looks great but feels repetitive – despite some brief moments of comedy, and lovingly-portrayed grotesquery, it never quite reclaims the form’s sheer brilliance.  Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything…except, it would seem, an original addition to the legacy.

 

Sarah Griffin

16 (See IFCO for details)

102 minutes

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For is released 25th August

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For –  Official Website

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‘No Country for Young Women’: Blood Rising

BRIAN AND BERTHA ALICIA

Bertha Alivia and Brian Maguire (Blood Rising)

Sarah Griffin talks to Mark Mc Loughlin about his powerful documentary Blood Rising, which examines the phenomenon of femicide in the Mexican city of Juarez.

The film screens on Friday, 4th April at The Light House at 20.30. Director Mark Mc Loughlin will introduce the film. After the screening there will be a Q&A with the director, artist Brian Maguire and musician Gavin Friday.

With frightening constancy, the desert sands surrounding Ciudad Juárez give up their terrible secrets in so-called ‘body dumps’. Lomas del Poleo, the Valley of Juárez, Campo Algodonero and Lote Bravo lay bare the exposed bodies of the brutalised and murdered women of Juárez. In No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy paints a vivid picture of desolation and fear in the deserts surrounding this city, and it was an image Brian Maguire carried closely with him when he brought his art there in an attempt to make some sense of the horror. Brian travelled to Juárez with a view to getting to know those who had been lost, and think about how art might work towards bringing the story of these women, abandoned to the desert sands, to life in some way.

 

Mark Mc Loughlin began documenting Brian’s work, and considers his participation “an extension of what [Brian] has done in celebrating the lives of the murdered young women.” As Mark points out, Brian’s artwork “is limited to exhibitions, so the film brings the exposure a step further into other areas.” And so he joined Brian’s journey into one of the most dangerous cities in the world, bravely taking his camera into streets where, as he puts it, “…you work on a knife edge all of the time.” Families of victims have suffered retribution when they chose to speak out on their disappeared daughters – something we are shown in the brutal murder of Rubi in August 2008, and its aftermath. Rubi’s brother Juan tells us of how the family knew who had killed Rubi, how the police did nothing, how they campaigned for a trial, then a retrial, how they marched through the city, how they never gave up in the face of wilful governmental ignorance. He tells us of the indomitable spirit of his mother, Marisela Escobedo, who brushed death threats aside in her yearning to seek justice, right up until the moment a hit-man gunned her down in broad daylight. Mark had to take all of this into account when visiting the families of victims with Brian as they worked on the documentary. “We looked at covert ways of walking, and always had a ten-to-fifteen minute rule of filming in any location outdoors”, he notes, “…after that period it is too dangerous – you have to keep moving.” “You become more confident over time”, he continues, “but also more revealed. One of the drug cartels issued a death threat to anyone caught filming in Juárez during our final shoots there.” Understandably, this meant that filming took place surreptitiously on tours of the city streets and desolate outer areas, from the back of a car, and with minimal fuss on entering people’s homes. The threat to visitors is very real – nearly one hundred journalists and media workers have been murdered in Mexico in the last ten years.

 

The ever-present danger accounts for the at-times shaky camerawork, and the interviews with journalists and family members that can often feel intense and rushed when they take place outdoors. Indeed the starkness of the footage is echoed in the starkness of the subject – and Brian’s art does not exist, as you might expect, to lighten the tone in any way. His response to the murders is one of anger – something he calls, “the spirit of revenge” – and his paintings of the lost and murdered women can sometimes droop in his hands in the face of such systematic evil. Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, a prominent human rights lawyer who has exposed the crimes of both cartel and government officers in Ciudad Juárez, puts the escalating crisis in context. In the mid-’80s it was decided to allow the drug cartels to solve their own problems internally – crimes of torture and murder, when committed within the ranks of the cartel, were not investigated, and cartels began operating with impunity. Since 1993 ‘justifiable homicides’, that is the murder of those with ties to the drug cartels, have been happening with staggering consistency. Gustavo points out that pre-’93 the murder of a woman was investigated and followed through; now, they will instead ‘justify’ why this particular woman was murdered through her supposed ties to drugs, what she wore, where she was kidnapped, and her own behaviour. The majority of these women were on their way to or from the many maquiladoras surrounding Juárez – factories operating in the low-tax base of Mexico, paying a pittance to workers producing goods for the global market. They provide unskilled and meagre employment for this sprawling working-class city that could touch the affluence of El Paso, Texas if not for the 14-foot-high concrete and steel fencing that lines the border.

 

Mark has always been motivated by human rights issues, and when a “mutual friend” told him about Brian’s work in Juárez he “felt compelled to make a film.” The end result has been scored by Gavin Friday in what feels a very personal way, hauntingly evoking the slim line between America and Mexico, and the desolation of the surrounding desert. Using art as a weapon to aid the fight for justice in Juárez was a step that felt natural for both Mark and Brian – their own skills could be put to use in a way that might be meaningful to the families. It’s important for both of them that the symbiotic relationship of exploring the artists’ response to such horror was one that aided the families in a tangible way – hence the effort to record the process. “The emotional impact of working there was very strong”, explains Mark, “We screened the film for MEP’s in the European parliament three weeks ago, so that was a first step in an international human rights campaign to bring the story to the attention of the wider political sphere, in the hope that pressure from outside may help to bring about change.”

 

As Brian sits with each family, passing on his version of their daughter to hang on their wall, it seems like a promise that they will not be forgotten – not by Brian, not by Mark and his camera, and not by the audience who sees them. Depressed on leaving Juárez, and wondering aloud if what they are doing is good enough, Brian feels that though he has shown respect to the victims, the paintings are in some way ineffectual. As the camera follows each picture being hung lovingly on the walls of homes where they will always be remembered, it’s the doing of anything so hopeful that seems brave. When Brian and Mark leave Juárez they take with them the promise to continue giving some voice to the voiceless, to never forget what they have seen and heard. Brian’s last words shows the burden, and the continued hope, of that oath – “We do our work as best we can”.

 

Sarah Griffin

 

 

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